A Look Into a Society Free of Gender-Based Disparities This International Women's Day

Awareness of gender equality has spread around the world in recent times, and today many are speaking out in its favor. In honor of International Women's Day (March 8), this article will take a look at the concept of a society free of gender-based disparities.
iStock.com/Sviatlana Barchan

A Day Rooted in a Strike for Women's Suffrage

It is that time of year when you can hear the first sounds of springtime approaching. While cherry blossoms symbolize this season in Japan, in Europe, especially in warmer regions such as Italy and the south of France, the mimosa flower is known for signaling the end of winter. Bright yellow flowers that bloom in a lovely round shape, mimosas are given to women every year on March 8 for International Women's Day.

International Women's Day is said to have originated from a strike in New York City in 1908 demanding better working conditions for women and women's suffrage. The United States is known as a country that has stood for freedom and equality since its founding, but in the beginning, that "equality" did not extend to women. However, the appeals of those who participated in the strike and the actions of those who inherited their cause spread the movement for women's rights not only across the United States but also throughout Europe.

From universal suffrage to the right to hold public office, the elimination of workplace discrimination, and at times anti-war movements, the activism that began in New York took on different forms throughout the years and gradually bore fruit. Several commemorative days were established across the United States and Europe, such as "National Woman's Day" and "Women's Day," and since 1975, the United Nations has been celebrating "International Women's Day" annually on March 8. The day was later officially formalized by the UN General Assembly in 1977.

Gender Equality in Japan Lagging Behind Amongst Developed Countries

In 2015, a new set of international goals called the SDGs was established by the United Nations. Of the 17 goals, "Gender Equality" is fifth, and awareness of the need to eliminate gender-based discrimination and inequality is spreading around the world. So, let's take a look at how gender equality is viewed in Japan.

In March 2021, the World Economic Forum released its Gender Gap Index 2021 (Global Gender Gap Report 2021), a framework evaluating the four areas of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Out of 156 countries, Iceland ranked first, Finland second, and Norway third, with the Scandinavian countries receiving high marks overall. Japan, on the other hand, came in at 120th, an unfortunate ranking that was the lowest among developed countries.

Behind this was the low rate of women's participation in politics, marked by women making up less than 10% of the members of the House of Representatives, the low percentage of female managers, and the fact that women's average income is about half that of men. Cases of sexual harassment against women and unreasonable treatment of victims of sexual violence can also be seen on daily news programs, incidents of which we as a country can never be proud. One could say that a harsh winter has been raging on for the women of Japan, the coming of the cherry blossoms of equality still distant.

Towards a Society Where People Can Live as Themselves No Matter Their Gender

Various efforts are underway in Japan to improve this situation. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is working on a number of initiatives, including the "Ready GO! Project," an event supporting women who are trying to reenter the workforce while balancing family life; "APT Women," the largest support program for female entrepreneurs in Japan; and the "Women's Participation Promotion Award," an award recognizing individuals and corporations for their contributions to women's advancement.

Such movements toward gender equality are not limited to local governments. Revisions to the Act on the Promotion of Female Participation and Career Advancement in the Workplace are scheduled to come into effect in April 2022. The purpose of the law is to create an environment that enables women to play an active role in society, and from April, more companies will be required to monitor the status of women's advancement and analyze issues.

Although the term "gender equality" tends to focus on women, it is of course necessary to create a society that is easy to live in for both women and men. Gender is like a gradation, not confined to the simplistic categories of "female" and "male." Recognizing sexual diversity is also part of gender equality, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to introduce a partnership system in FY2022, a step toward establishing a marriage system that is not bound by traditional concepts of sex.

We are all members of society, regardless of gender. This International Women's Day, try to envision what a perfect society would look like to you.

The event will be held as "Ready GO! Project Plus" in FY2022.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government's budget proposal for FY2022 incorporates new projects to promote women's advancement, including one aimed at changing people's awareness and promoting equal participation by targeting unconscious gender biases (70 million yen) and an awareness-raising project to promote the use of paternity leave (100 million yen).

In honor of International Women's Day, a video message from Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko is now available. Please take a look.

Translation by Amitt