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Legal Manifestations of Feminism in Japan

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Legal Manifestations of Feminism in Japan



Throughout the twentieth century, Japan has undergone a great deal of transformation (not all of it willingly) in order to conform to a western economic and legal system. These changes have held massive implications for feminism in Japan, some positive, many not so much. With the introduction of capitalist modes of production and the ever-so-slow dissolution of the ie family system, women face issues of fair employment, just as a male-dominated society struggles to find ways to express women's history.


State Feminism


Women's Bureau


In the years immediately following World War II under the close supervision of the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers, Japan instituted many policies policies to promote the status of women in society. To organize its interactions with feminist organizations and the (now-voting) woman constituency, the government established the Women's Bureau as a part of the Ministry of Labor in 1947. For more information on the formation of the Woman's Bureau, read:


  • Kobayashi, Yoshie. __A Path Toward Gender Equality: State Feminism in Japan__. New York: Routledge, 2004. 37-56.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) was passed in 1985 in order to bring Japan into compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a UN document signed by Japan in 1979. It stipulates (and strongly suggests) that employers should eliminate discrimination in their recruitment, employment and remuneration of employees based on sex. Many conservatives have attacked the law based on perceived bias in its enforcement, and women's groups have criticized it for not going far enough to enforce the requirements. Also, it has drawn a mixture of criticism and support for stipulating various limitations upon women's work hours, and granting menstrual leave by request. This has been characterized both as necessary accommodations to even the playing field for women in the workforce, as well as having a regressive influence by giving employers an "excuse" to keep women workers from rising to management positions and catering to the idea that women need to be helped in order to maintain the same level of work. Despite what has been said about the law, however, there has been a marked increase in part-time employment of women since it's passage.


In 1999, the EEOL was revised to remove many of the limitations placed on women's overtime, holiday and late-night hours, as well as to provide a basis for enforcement of the regulations surrounding recruitment and employment. Punishments, and a clause allowing the government to publicize those companies that are noncompliant, are also detailed in the revised version of the law.


and Social System Regarding Women in Japan


World War II manifestations


During the Pacific War, a different style of state feminism was employed to gain support among women and peace activists. The state instituted






Drafting a constitution after the war gave women in Japan an opportunity for further equality in terms of human rights and rights to work. The concern of the United States to eliminate fascist elements of Japan that defined the country during the war ensured that the constitution would be strongly egalitarian, but it goes much further to protect the rights of women in marriage and as citizens even than that of the United States. This is the result of


Article 9


Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.


Article 14


All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin. 2) Peers and peerage shall not be recognized. 3) No privilege shall accompany any award of honor, decoration or any distinction, nor shall any such award be valid beyond the lifetime of the individual who now holds or hereafter may receive it.


Article 24


Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. 2) With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.


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Employment Structure


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International Year for Women


In 1975, the United Nations declared the year as the International Year for Women, focusing international attention on the status of women in society.




Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)



  • to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination;
  • and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.


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Sexual Harassment


Workplace sexual harassment


Campus sexual harassment


Laws pertaining to sexual harassment cases


International Labour Organization:


Under article 709 of the Civil Code, a person who unlawfully infringes upon another person’s rights may be liable to pay damages, and courts have used this provision in some sexual harassment cases on the basis of a personal right to a working environment conducive to working. Article 715 of the Civil Code provides that employers are liable in tort for employees’ illegal conduct if the conduct is carried out in the course of the employer’s business. The courts have used this provision to make employers liable for an employee’s sexual harassment of a co-worker.


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Also see the section on the textbook controversy surrounding military slavery during the Pacific War.


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See Also




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