Sunday, October 23, 2005

Equal Opportunity for Japanese Women -- What Progress?

by Charles Weathers
October 05, 2005
Career opportunities have improved greatly for many Japanese women in recent years. More large companies are willing to hire them as career-track employees, and their share of elite civil servant positions has been growing. Although female students at my institution, Osaka City University, still encounter discrimination during the job hunt, they have actually outperformed men in recent job searches. A survey of the top 74 universities confirms the trend, showing that women had higher job placement rates this spring in most of the 395 departments covered. It appears that some businesses are taking more seriously the mantra that ability trumps gender in today's more globalized, market-oriented economy.

Despite these signs of progress, however, employment opportunity for the majority of women may actually be getting worse. The main reason is that employers are intent on reducing costs by replacing regular (seiki) employees with lower-paid, disposable non-regular (hiseiki) workers, including part-timers, agency temporaries, and contract workers, who often do the same or similar work. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) estimates that non-regular workers constituted 34.6 percent of the salaried work force in 2003, and the figure continues to rise. The Japanese have assigned the name hiseikika (non-regularization) to the rising ratio of non-regular workers. Some, particularly housewives caring for young children, are content with non-regular and part-time jobs, but the number of "involuntary" non-regulars, those unable to find regular positions, has grown steadily in recent years. Further, even regular female employees are bothered by sexual harassment, discrimination in promotions to management, and refusal of childcare leave.

Twenty years after the passage of the first Equal Employment Opportunity Law, why does Japan's progress toward equal opportunity remain so erratic, or worse?
The full article can be read here.

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