March 2017


International Women's Day (March 8)

All For Achieving The Elusive Work-Life Balance In Japan  

New Delhi, (Women's Feature Service) - Fourteen feminist thinkers from across the globe have penned down their reflections on the flaws in the current patterns of development, arguing for political, economic and social changes to promote equality and sustainability, in Harvesting Feminist Knowledge for Public Policy, a collection of essays brought out by Sage Publications. In the context of the "triple crises" of food, fuel, and finance, they dwell on the growing inequality, squeeze on time to provide unpaid care to family and friends, and environmentally unsustainable patterns of economic growth. This is an excerpt from the chapter, Modernity, Technology, and the Progress of Women in Japan, Problems and Prospects by Hiroko Hara.

Women and Scientific and Technological Advances

Although all seven national universities began to admit female students-at least in principle-in 1946, only an extremely small number of women majored in social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering. Women's employment opportunities after graduation remained heavily limited. Therefore, only a handful of women were able to contribute to Japan's scientific and technological advances during the 20th century. Those pioneering women who were fortunate enough to work with male researchers who acted as their mentors were able to lead a creative research life and obtain a doctoral degree in their specialized field of study so as to make significant contributions to academia both within and outside Japan. More recently, the number of women playing a prominent part in the field of natural sciences, and science and technology has increased.

Women Researchers

The White Book on Science and Technology (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, 2008) gives special attention to "women researchers," including women engineers, reflecting its subtitle "Science and technology to overcome fierce international competition in the field." As previously pointed out, however, the percentage of women in science and technology research in Japan is extremely low; at 12.4 percent it is almost the lowest among developed countries, compared to Latvia with 52.7 percent and the United States with 32.5 percent (ibid.).

To offset the noticeable decrease in the number of male students choosing to pursue science and technology in the mid-1980s, the then Science and Technology Agency set out to prepare policies to encourage female junior high and high school students to enter these fields. After 2000, the Government began to actively recruit women research scientists as it became more difficult to secure enough human resources in science and technology. This is partly because of the rapidly aging population and declining birth rates, and partly because-as noted earlier-many more male students prefer the service industries to the manufacturing industries (Ministry of Labour, 1982, 1988). The Science and Technology Basic Plan for the third term (fiscal 2006-2010) introduced various measures to increase the active involvement of women researchers.

Spurred on by the enactment of the Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society in 1999 and the formulation of the Science and Technology Basic Plan for the second term (fiscal 2001-2005) among others, 29 academic societies in science and engineering fields (most of which are headed by men) joined together in October 2002 to organize an NGO called Japan Inter-Society Liaison Association Committee for Promoting Equal Participation of Men and Women in Science and Engineering (EPMEWSE). Its committee board consists of both women and men, and its member associations take turns to function as the Secretariat.

EPMEWSE succeeded in having two important proposals adopted in 2004: one to improve childcare support systems appropriate for researchers in science and technology; and the other to expand the range of researchers entitled to apply for research grants. In 2005, the committee filed a "Request concerning Science and Technology Basic Plan for the third term--toward the realization of a gender-equal society," made up of the following:

  • Create/continue a system for model projects to promote equal participation of men and women, and ensure its flexible implementation.
  • Set numerical targets regarding the employment and promotion of women researchers, and introduce special subsidies.
  • Put in place measures to narrow differences in the treatment of men and women.
  • Promote specific measures for childcare support.
  • Promote "Challenge Campaigns" for schoolgirls wishing to study science and/or engineering at universities/colleges.
Other organizations working to advance the status of women in the sciences include the Japan Scientists Association (JSA), set up in 1965, and the Japan Women Engineers' Forum (JWEF), founded in 1992.

Impact of Science and Technology Advances on Household Labor

The widespread diffusion of cars and home appliances-radios, TVs, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and accompanying chemicals and related items (cleaners, detergents for windows and dishes, dust cloths)-as well as other products such as ready-made food was driven by marketing campaigns that emphasized a reduction in household chores, giving women more time for their own interests, such as lifelong learning and social participation in diverse fields (Amano, 2003; Amano et al., 2007). However, statistics indicate that working women still spend an average of 3 hours and 28 minutes per day on housework-less than full-time housewives (at 4 hours and 42 minutes) but far more than husbands who, whether their wife is working or not, spend only about 10 minutes (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Equal Employment, Children and Family Bureau, 2008). A few women choose to work part time instead of full time so as to supplement the income earned by their husbands and at the same time to fully perform their duties as housewives.

Since 1945, most Japanese households-except for the highest economic strata-have had no paid domestic workers, and household labor and childcare are mainly housewives' responsibility. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in the number of users of private services in which hourly paid housework specialists do cleaning, gardening, and other chores. Among the six leading companies in this field, all but one limit services to the Tokyo metropolitan area and its environs and/or major cities across the nation. The prices set by these companies range widely, from roughly JPY 2,000-3,000 per hour (at the time of writing, 84 Japanese yen [JPY] = 1 United States dollar [USD]).

The Government encourages companies and municipalities to enable working women and men to achieve work-life balance, but this is still far from becoming a reality. There have been some rare cases since 1990, some of them published in books that have caught the public's attention, where the wife earns a higher income than the husband and/or the husband does household chores and looks after children as a full-time househusband. Overall, however, Japan's progress in science and technology so far has hardly contributed to the equal sharing between husband and wife of household labor or to closing the income disparities between women and men.

(Excerpted from the chapter, ‘Modernity, Technology, and the Progress of Women in Japan, Problems and Prospects’ by Hiroko Hara, in 'Harvesting Feminist Knowledge for Public Policy, Rebuilding Progress, Edited by Devaki Jain and Diane Elson; Published by Sage Publications; Pp: 396; Price: Rs 795)

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