The Result of the Battle for Gender Equality!?

English Translation of the News Program Broadcast by Mainichi Broadcasting Service, 4/14/2005



In a city in Osaka prefecture, the director of the city's Gender Equality Promotion Center was forced out of her job, and filed a lawsuit against the city at the Osaka District Court.

Behind the case was an ideological dispute over gender equality.

Let's take a look at the heated discussion, involving even politicians, on how "gmen and women" should be.

The center is named STEP, and functions to promote gender equality. Among its facilities are a large hall with movable seats, a library, and a day-care center.

STEP is conveniently located just in front of Toyonaka station. The city spent 2.5 billion yen to establish it (approximately 22.5 million dollars).

The founding director of STEP was Mariko Mitsui. She was selected out of over 60 candidates publicly recruited by the screening committee.

She studied gender equality policies in Norway and has been a charismatic figure in the field.

"The city's recruitment for the Director was open to the public. And the city chose me. Toyonaka city was splendid, and I admired it.iMitsuij

Filled with hope, she started the job. However, the situation turned out to be unusual, as she ended up suing the city.

What happened behind the scenes during the implementation of gender equality policies?

Six years ago, in 1999, the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society .

The law states that Japan should strive for a society in which both men and women can fully demonstrate their abilities without being confined to rigid gender roles, such as "men go to work, women stay at home."

Mitsui became the director of STEP in order to propagate this law.

Despite her status as a part-time director, she held many innovative events and programs. For example, she invited politicians and scholars from Norway, where a high birth rate has been achieved as a result of gender equal policies, to lecture. STEP was frequently covered by the media.

"A survey by the United Nations found that countries with high gender empowerment measures have higher birth rates. I believe that we can create a social system like Europe's, where women can have both a career and a family.iMitsuij

However, a city representative, Mr. Kitagawa, disagreed with Mitsui who insists on a society where it is much easier for women to work. He was a representative for the Toyonaka City Assembly.

"Male and female, men and women. We have had these sexes throughout our history. We should all already have gender consciousness as men and women, dating from childhood."iKitagawaj

Mitsui versus Representative Kitagawa.

Their ideas on how men and women should be are completely different.

"Japanese men spend much less time on housework and childrearing compared to men in other countries." iMitsuij

"Women, you should pay more attention and take much better care of your families, and give birth to more babies." iKitagawaj

"We need a society where it is totally fine for women not to have children if they don't want to. Currently, Japan is a society where women can't have babies even if they want to.iMitsuij"

"The number of women who feel happy not being married and not having kids is rapidly increasing." iKitagawaj

"The percentage of women politicians is only 6-7%. The voice of women is not reflected in decision-making processes."iMitsuij

"Mitsui's argument is that of Marx and Engels, to liberate women from housework and childrearing. It is a kind of socialist revolution. " iKitagawaj

The opposition to STEP creating a gender-equal society has been growing.

There was an application to hold a seminar entitled "Gender(-bias) Free is a Dangerous Ideology" at STEP. In addition, a flier with the word, "Gender(-bias) Free is Women's Enemy" was distributed in front of city hall and train stations. They used the term, "Gender Free," to slander feminists.

"I thought that finally the right-wing protestors came. But we had all thought that the connection between STEP and the city wouldn't have broken easily, simply from accusations such as the "free" in "gender free" means "free sex."

However, the situation changed drastically.

One evening, Mitsui was asked to attend a meeting at city hall. Rep. Kitagawa and the citizens who distributed the critical fliers against STEP were also there.

The issue in question concerned a STEP internal document that had been leaked.

The document reported that certain politicians' speeches at assembly meetings and activities by some citizens were part of a problematic movement to prohibit the promotion of gender equality.

The members of the group written about in the document were angry, and criticized STEP and city administrators harshly for three hours.

(Based on the petition etc.)

gSTEP was totally dyed with the Mitsui color.h iCitizen Aj

gThe secretary general is a civil servant employed by the city. She should be neutral.hiCitizen Bj

gWe are questioning the responsibility of the city for hiring Mitsui as the Director.hiCitizen Cj

gYou city administrators, what do you think?h (followed by a loud sound of hitting the table)

gI certainly told them to do their job better. I might have scolded them.hiKitagawaj

(Q: Did you hit the table?h )

gNo, no, no. I didn't. Well, wait a minute. Maybe something banged. I might have done it.h(Kitagawa)

Only a month after Rep. Kitagawa took his action, Toyonaka city made the decision to hire a staff person from Neyagawa City, a neighboring city to Toyonaka, for the Director position as a successor to Mitsui.

The decision was made two months before the board meeting of STEP, where such a decision on organizational change is supposed to be made.

gI was told that it had to be kept secret between my boss and me, until after Toyonaka City's next board meeting. After the talk, he added in the end, eMitsui will be fired.h (Neyagawa City staff person)

As a result, Mitsui was deprived of her position as the Director of STEP.

gSTEP is an organization that is supposed to promote women's rights, but it actually took a woman's right to work away. My pain and agony was very deep. Many other women should be experiencing the same situation. h

Mitsui argues that Tonoyaka city fired her due to political pressure. On the other hand, Rep. Kitagawa explains as follows:

gI don't know if she felt it to be epressure,f but it was how she felt. I had never given such pressure.h

However, the head of the group that visited STEP often for protests was a person close to Rep. Kitagawa.

A woman witnessed the following.

gHe said something like, eAt a word from me, our right-wing propaganda truck will go there, are you ready?f I thought he was very used to coercing and intimidating others. h

Mainichi Broadcasting Service did a phone interview with this man, who engages in (right-wing) political activities. He disagreed as follows:

gI don't have a right-wing propaganda truck. I only have a usual Toyota HiAce minivan. If they argue that they are threatened, why don't they go to the police? It is totally legal to ask for something with a loud voice. I would never engage in illegal actions. But I will do many, many things that I consider legal.h (a man close to Kitagawaj

Turning our eyes to Toyonaka City:

gToyonaka City will explain Mitsui's misunderstandings and factual mistakes in our argument in court.h iHongo, Toyonaka cityj

Today, certain religious groups and the media strengthen their criticisms against gender equality.

Bashing the idea of gender equality has prevailed all over Japan, especially centering around local assemblies. Concern about this situation is spreading among local administrators and women's groups.

gThese phenomena do not occur naturally in multiple areas at the same time. There must be a gcontrol towerh somewhere.h (Prof. Osawa, Tokyo University)

It has been 60 years since gender equality was recognized by the post-war Japanese Constitution.

Echoing the discussion on the revision of the Constitution, increasingly more politicians insist that gender roles between men and women be clearly distinguished, and family values be emphasized.

gWomen have an important role in maintaining families. There is no question about this fact. I dare to say, the most wonderful thing in the world is to raise our beloved children. Without it, our society cannot exist. In order for women to be able to concentrate on bringing up children without worries, men should devote their lives to work.h

(Shingo Nishimura, Lower House Representative)

Voices of Toyonaka citizens (at Toyonaka Station)

gOur family cannot live only with my salary, so both my wife and I have to work.h

gIf women decide to work, men should share child-raising responsibilities.h

gAfter I retired from my job, I finally realized how hard housework is.h

gGender-Equal Societyh is a society where men and women cooperate and each person can realize their own unique individualities and abilities.

This seemingly natural theme actually reflects the changing reality of Japanese society, 60 years after the end of WWII.

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