Precarious life for Japanese women at work

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

Anonymous student post

This time I would like to think about how is the current precariousness of life in Japan affecting my plans.

After graduate from Ritsumeikan University I would like to get a job. To get a job, I have to do job hunting but there is a “ikizurasa” for woman. It is said that women have much difficulty when they do job hunting because many of the companies think that women tend to retire after they get married, or have children. The companies don’t want to hire people who clearly quit job because no matter how supervise women, it will be absolutely nothing. But there are many women who will not get married or have children. So I think there is a unfairness between men and women, and it will be a “ikizurasa” for Japanese women.

Even if I write this way, I think I will quit job when I have children, and it is related to “ikizurasa” because I believe there is “ikizurasa” not only in the society but also in the company. There is a system that men/women can take a childcare holiday for several weeks whenever the employees want. I think that it is a good system for everyone who got children because you can take care of them, not to abolish or leave them in grandparents care. However, if you take childcare holiday, you will fall behind to the same period. I don’t think that falling behind to the peers is a bad thing, but most of the companies regards the employee as lacking of the ability. But there is a bad aspect to take a childcare holiday.  After I take the holidays, it will be difficult to get back to the job because I would not know how was the company going on during I take the holidays. I think this means that l will lose my “ibasho” in the company. I regard “ibasho” as the place where I can get comfort both physically and mentally. I have a image that companies change very fast so even if the employees take holidays for a while, it will be difficult to catch up the work, and surrender will be changed.

After I raise up my children, I want to open a small English private cramming school in my house. These days, we have variety of jobs nothing to do with gender. I think this is a improvement of “ikizurasa”.

Above all, these are my life plan and thinking. I want to find my “ibasho”.

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Balancing career and family for women in Japan

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

by Momo Nakamura

How should Japanese women who want to have both a career and family, including children, live in current Japanese society?

This is the ultimate question for me since I am one of the women. In my future, I want to study conflict resolution or peace building in graduate school and have work that require what I have studied. Although I don’t know whether I will stay in Japan or not, it is clear that having a child is very difficult after the age of 30. That means women who want a child have to marry at least by 30.

Marriage is the first and maybe the most difficult part. Of course they don’t have to marry to have a child, however, many of them must be in need of a partner because of the unstable situation of the Japanese society. Raising a child costs a lot and takes time and care, so it will be really hard to do it alone. Those who can prioritize one thing, having family or career, won’t have such difficulty but for women like me, it will be a matter of chance to find a partner while working hard.

I can think of two reasons why I want to marry. One is the stereotype that exists strongly in Japanese society that women’s happiness is to have children and their family. I agree to some extent. It will become a new and fundamental “ibasho” where I can relieve and be needed. Second is about future income. If I became a person who works for peace, I can easily imagine that I don’t have so much income. This is why I need someone who has another way of making money. These two reasons show that although I’m aiming to have a new type of life, I’m still trapped to the old and traditional values and needs.

Second difficult part is the relationships between relatives and neighbors. It is important to maintain good relationships with people around us. We can have various kinds of security we need as families from the relationships that Japanese society have had for a long time in history, and it was mainly women’s job to make the relationships. However, having a new kind of life can make it difficult to have the relationships. When both parents work regularly, there is less time to spend with people around them. Also, people’s way of thinking seems to be changing. When I started to live in Kyoto, I thought I have to go to see my neighbors to say hello, what many Japanese do when they have moved to a new place. However, my parents disagreed because it may be dangerous to tell my neighbors that I’m living alone. Some connections that were seen as a security are now seen as something different. In this situation, it requires active approaches to bring back the security.

I often think of those problems that may occur when I try to realize my dream, and it is deeply connected to the society where we live. Although it is difficult, I want to keep challenging and this type of life may one day become a normal way of life.

Immigration, gender structures and their present roles

Cover of "Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, a...

Cover via Amazon

by Ludvig Bergman

Men have since way back dominated over women with authoritative power, remnants of that might still have some effects on the relationship between the contemporary “equal” men and women in our global contemporary society. Global Woman by Ehrenreich and Hochschild describes how women from third world countries move to developed contries to do “women’s work” with hopes of a higher salary to provide for her family in her home country. Even though this method in many cases secure the financial problems, it also contributes to splitting up families, mothers leaving their underage children without the nurture and care they need.

This shows how third world citizens now take on the role of the traditional suppressed woman in developed countries where the women, due to becoming more “equal” to the breadwinning men, no longer have time to attend such matters as upbringing and childcare. The gender norms expect women to take care of the home and the children while the man should support the family and work long hours.

In the Swedish modern society where I grew up, this might no longer be the case. Men and women more and more split the parental leave between them to give each other the oppurtunity to spend time with the child as well as not loose to much days off from work because of the new addition to the family. The issue comes first when the parental leave is over and the child old is enough to no longer need constant attention from it’s parents. When both of the parents return to work, who is now supposed to take on the traditional role of the mother? This is where the immigrant nannies come into the picture. Nannies whose care for their own children gets neglected to help maintain the gender roles of the developed west.

The salary gap between men and women are in contemporary times static. Unlike past times where men were considered to be the sole breadwinners of the family, in contemporary times that no longer applies. With men no longer being the only breadwinners of the family, services such as daycare and kindergarden allows women to have a family alongside with having a career.

Maatz describes in her Forbes article “The Awful Truth Behind The Gender Pay Gap” how full-time working women in the U.S for the last decade have had median earnings equivalent to 77% of men’s earnings. That such a big difference actually exists in our modern society shows, in my opinion, how either unmotivated any change must be or how uneducated people must be of the current situation. This doesn’t only affect women’s financial status over time but have immediate consequenses regarding issues such as repayment of student loans. Women pay the same tuitions and have the same student loans as their comparative male students. The result of this financial unequality is, according to the article, women already from the beginning being financially behind men in a race where they most commonly cannot ever catch up.

References

The Awful Truth Behind The Gender Payment Gap by Lisa M. Maatz http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeswomanfiles/2014/04/07/the-awful-truth-of-the-gender-pay-gap-it-gets-worse-as-women-age/

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Hochschild. eds. 2004. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York: Holt and Company.

Migrant women in the third world and gender ideology

be Jeawon Moon

Imagine you are a career woman who has a family in a first world country. If you struggle to persist with working and housework together, it is really easy to find a cheap maid or nanny service with a click of the mouse. There are a lot of maids and nannies in the first world who are migrant women from the third world.

The growing crisis of care in the first country has increased demand for caring service especially caused by women’s advancement in the society. The migrant women workers are an invisible power to sustain the economic participation of women and global cities in the first world.

Above this, there are two more factors influencing the significant increase of the migrant women workers. The third world has faced serious polarization of wealth and devastated economies due to global capitalism. The migrant women workers are considered as the way to revive the economy at the national level. Lastly, they decide to migrate to gain better economic opportunities for themselves and their family.

Let’s think about the gender ideology involved with this trend of migration. Does the trend have a positive influence on developing gender egalitarian views on society? At first, the answer looks like yes. Even though it is hard to ignore the structural factors forcing third world women to migrate, it is also an important fact that they decide to migrate autonomously, unlike previously when many migration women were tied movers.

Also, the migration of women workers challenges traditional gender portrayals that woman takes care of housework and child caring and man is the breadwinner. They decide to migrate for their poor family and become the main breadwinner. They have even played an important role in national economy. In other words, it seems that society is moving towards gender equality.

However, there are some doubts that the migration challenges traditional gender roles. It may actually solidify them. In truth, much of the work for the migrant women is limited to reproductive labor, which refers to caring work to sustain households. Typically, reproductive labor has been considered a woman’s duty and identity. They fill the blank of traditional roles in the houses of the first world since women of the first world do not want to take the roles because of their work.

Also, because women leave their families to go to the first world, there will be the blank of caring in their families, which will be filled with another woman of the third world who is too poor to migrate to other countries or by female relatives. In this global care chain, there is an almost complete lack of man’s role to care for a family after the woman has migrated.

Especially in the Philippines, the government and media condemn migrant mothers with concerns that they are causing a family break-up. Although the economy has been sustained by remittances from migrant workers, they shift the responsibility of family crisis only to migrant mothers and insist that return is the only solution.

The trend of migration illustrates that both career women of the first world and migrant women workers of the third world have an unfair social status compared to that of men. Even though more and more women are entering the workforce in the first world, they are still considered as the main player of housework. So, they would like to hire migrant women workers to do caring work instead of them. In the third world, migrant women workers’ absence is filled with other women. This contradictory, unfair gender ideology dominates current global society.

Japan reaches top rank – in gender inequality

by Michelle Liebheit

As The Mainichi reported last month, Japan has been slipping down on the gender gap ranking for the last couple of years. This year it finally reached the lowest rank in gender equality within industrialized countries. We talked about this topic various times in class too, but most of our discussions were based on perception rather than data. I was therefore interested how gender equality in Japan is really doing and the data I found was still surprising.

First, the gender gap report shows some interesting numbers. Whereas the unemployment rate is very low for both genders in Japan (women 4%, men 5%), we see a huge difference in the type of employment. 35% of the female labour force works part-time. If we compare this to their male counterparts, of which only 10% are part-time employees, the difference is clearly visible.

Other major points for Japan’s bad performance are due to a lack of political empowerment (ranking 118 out of 135 in the subindex). In the current diet, only 8% of the parliament seats are hold by women. Moreover, Japan has had no female head of state since the establishment of a parliament in the late 19th century.

This numbers seem quite shocking, but actually Japan has established a very good basis for empowerment in all areas of life for women. A high number (56%) of women is attending tertiary education such as universities and specialized schools. Japanese women are more educated and skilled than ever before. They hold their own bank accounts and have good health. However, at some point most of the female population drops out of the system and their potentials are being overlooked.

So what is still hindering Japanese women from becoming more equal to their male peers?

The major changing point in the life of a Japanese women is having children. Women’s maternity leave is from 6 weeks before childbirth to up to 8 weeks after childbirth. The (expecting) mother will be receive at least 2/3 of her last salary and other benefit, during this time. After childbirth both parents are eligible to take 12 month parental leave each with receiving 50% of their last earnings. However, a survey (2008) found at that only 1.23% of male employes take parental leave, compared to 90.6 percent of mothers. Only receiving half of one’s income can be a huge burden to families. Since the father’s income is likely to be higher than the mother’s, he will keep his job in order to financially secure his family. However, because kindergarten placements are very scare and difficulties in re-entering the job market, childcare often becomes the mother’s task only.

OECD’s studies have shown some further indicators of Japan’s gender gap. Japanese women spend around 270 minutes per day on domestic work, whereas Japanese men are spend around 60 minutes for housework per day (the OECD average being 131 minutes!). Housework clearly seems to be a female task. Moreover, childcare seems to be a female task too, since many women are only employed part-time. Only 28% of Japanese children under three are enrolled in a childcare institution, this meaning that the rest are being cared for most likely by their mothers. In comparison with other OECD countries, Japan ranks fourth lowest when it comes to public spending on childcare and preschool services.

Once women dropped out of the workforce due to maternity and childcare, it becomes very difficult for them to get a similar position afterwards. What the job market offers mothers will be most likely temporary, low paid, non-regular and part-time. Japanese mothers earn on average 61% less than men (full-time workers between 25 and 44) and even the total average income gap of the working force is still nearly 30%, without taking children into account. Due to this fact many Japanese mothers would rather stay at home than work, if their husband’s income can allow it. Additionally, the Japanese tax system actually disfavors married couples with two full-time incomes.

Creating more opportunities for mothers to re-enter the job market would have a huge impact on Japanese economics. Solving this problem and creating work possibilities for these women would rise Japanese GDP by 16% as the gender gap reports states (2010). Moreover, a change in Japanese society‘s perception of motherhood is urgently needed, if Japan wants to stop its population declining and create a more friendly atmosphere for women.

References

The Mainichi. Japan slips further to 105th in gender equality ranking. 10/25/2013. http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20131025p2g00m0dm026000c.html

The World Economic Forum. The Global Gender Gap Report 2013. http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2013/

OECD Better Life Index. Work-Life Balance (Subindex). http://oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/work-life-balance/

The Japan Times. Pay gap worst for Japan’s mothers. 12/19/2012. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2012/12/19/national/pay-gap-worst-for-japans-mothers/

The Japan Times. Parental leave still finds dads in huge minority. 06/02/2010. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/06/02/news/parental-leave-still-finds-dads-in-huge-minority/

Care Crisis at the Core of Gender Non-Equality

by Anna Dreveau

As Rhacel Salazar Parreñas notices in her chapter, “The Care Crisis in the Philippines,” a “crisis of care” is striking developed and developing countries.

As women in developed countries tend to a more masculine position, i.e. a career-oriented job instead of her traditional mother role. Those both income household generally let their children without any family care anymore. Indeed, the traditional gender roles are as such: the father is away from home, working as the family breadwinner and the mother stay at home, taking care of domestic labor and childcare. Those views are still contemporary, even in some developed countries, such as Japan.

However, in most Western societies, roles tend to become more gender-neutral. Does that mean that former female and male-specific role’s work share is equally divided ? That both parents manage to contribute to childcare and work ?

Alas, it was not the path paved by those claiming for a more gender egalitarian society. Wanted to be able to have a professional career, women did achieve to get it, but the load of work of their “mother role” did not decrease. Therefore, two options are offered: either being a “supermom”, being able to achieve both career and family life or simply abandon the task of taking care of the children to someone else, because of obvious lack of time.

As Parreñas observed, to respond to this demand of caretakers, women from developing countries, such as the Philippines, came to those families to be hired to take care of their children, leaving their own children back in their mother countries, generally in the custody of relatives.
The initially from-developed-country care deficit is thus moving into developing countries, through the process of global care chain. And quite similarly to developed countries, women gain the status of the main income earner of the family, getting the respect from this position within the family. Still, the buck is passed to those transnational mothers by mass media or local government as they are seen to have abandon their most important and initial role: being here and taking care of the children. Even though Parreñas’ examples can overcome the “not taking care of the children” part (as they do so as a “long-distance supermom”), their absence is undeniable.

Nevertheless, the real absent one in family life that can be observed in both developed and developing countries seems to be the father. Even though the father’s role is considered important even in gender non-egalitarian society, they are not relied on when the mother is away as other relatives or even elder siblings are preferred, as Parreñas’ interviewees testified. It would be unjust to claim that in Western countries, families do not rely on fatherhood as those societies became increasingly aware of both parenting’s benefits. Still, even those rely more on motherhood to raise children: as an example, when a couple get a divorce, this is easier for the mother to get custody for the child(ren) than it is for the father.

Getting more gender equality do not mean getting women at the same standards than men, but creating middle standards in which both gender can fit equally. Dividing work and family life more equally is one of the solution, but the most important thing to get rid of is those sexist expectations that just build the gender non-egalitarian societies around the world.