Japanese Women in the Workforce

by Olivia Katherine Parker

Due to Japan’s conservative and traditional society, most Japanese women have played the role of wife and mother instead of pursuing careers. The common ideal for young women within Japan is to marry a salary worker and to raise a family. Oftentimes, Japanese women do not plan to pursue a career because the challenge of raising children is enough for them.

Japanese women also face a large amount of pressure from society. Not only must a wife cook her husband meals and make him bento lunch boxes, but she must also care for her children, dress them, keep a tidy house, make sure the children get to school on time, make dinner, bathe the children, tuck them into bed, satisfy her husband, and then plan for the next day. The vicious yet “rewarding” cycle of motherhood doesn’t leave much room for a career let alone a part time job.

Since 1990 around 50% of all Japanese women have participated in the paid labor force, however, they leave due to factors such as marriage, child birth, or to assume the role as caretaker. Over two-thirds of Japanese women leave their jobs when they have children and don’t come back. If a woman returns to the workforce after having children, it is usually 5-10 years after the birth of her first child and instead of seeking out a career the majority of women take on part time jobs for extra income.

Japanese companies notoriously under pay their female employees. Women roughly earn 60% as much as men and very few women hold positions of authority such as manager or CEO. On top of that many female employees receive fewer benefits and smaller insurance policies within companies. This makes the allure of a career less enticing and deters many women. For most, job security is crucial and very hard to find.

Recently, Japan’s birth rate is on the decline. In theory this should not make sense. Women are staying home to fulfill the role as housewife so that should result in a higher or stabilized birth rate. Along with a declining birth rate Japan is also facing problems such as longer life expectancies and an increasing elderly population resulting in an economic recession. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to boost Japan’s economy by encouraging more women to join the workforce. However, Japan is also facing a child care crisis. Women who want to return to the workforce are faced with the difficulty of finding care for their children. Day care centers are often looked down upon by Japanese society because a child is not “receiving enough maternal care”. The Japanese perspective or normality is to see a mother with her child instead of in temporary care. So if a woman wants to come back to work after fulfilling her role in Japanese society as a mother but faces criticism and backlash by placing her child in day care (assuming she even finds a day care) it only perpetuates Japan’s contradictory views of women.

Many people believe that Japanese society and culture must change before women can be seen as equal in the work place. Societal pressure, stigmas, and sexism are so ingrained in Japanese culture that it could take decades or generations before a significant change can be seen.

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The Modern Working Woman: Expectations and the Gender Income Gap

English: Gender Pay Gap in 19 OECD countries a...

English: Gender Pay Gap in 19 OECD countries according to the 2008 OECD Employment Outlook report (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Paige Shaw

From aprons to business suits and domestic duties to the nine-to-five grind, our idea of a hard-working woman has changed drastically. All around the world we see more and more women entering the work force. However, these attempts to make women “equal” have caused different problems to arise. Women who enter the work force are still expected to do the domestic duties they were previously expected to do, on top of having a career. There is simply not enough time in the day for any one person to be able to have a career, raise a family, and maintain a home. Men on the other are not expected to juggle all these things, but they are sometimes expected to put work before family. In addition women are paid a fraction of the amount to do the same work as their male counterparts. As a society we have developed this ideal of having work, home, and time for leisure. In the long run this is not a sustainable lifestyle. I have seen both in my home country, Canada, and in Japan on exchange, that in both countries there is a difference between being a man and being a woman in the workplace.

English: Map of Canada

English: Map of Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find generally when I talk to people who aren’t from North America, or who aren’t too familiar with Canada, that they sometimes have the idea that Canada has it all figured out. However in terms of the gender income gap, Canada has a larger gap then countries such as Norway, Italy, and France. The Conference Board of Canada ranked Canada 11th out of 17 peer countries and gave it a grade C in terms of the Gender Income Gap. Women will earn approximately 76 cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same job. I find in Canada there is still the stereotype that housework and child rearing are more of the woman’s job. However there isn’t as much stigma towards stay at home dads or men helping out around the house as there are in other countries. But it does still seem to be the ideal for a woman to have a successful career, well-behaved children, and a well-maintained home. This is unrealistic because there is simply not enough time for one woman to do all these things.

Compared to Canada, Japan’s gender income gap is much wider, and their expectations for women make it harder to maintain a job. Women in Japan on average earn 29% less than men. It is also uncommon to see a woman working in a high position at a company. Japan has very high expectations for its workers and its mothers. Most women end up quitting their job, either by their own choice or because of societal pressure, once they get married or start having kids. Even with the recent action to increase the amount of women in the workforce, because social expectations aren’t changing, women ultimately have to choose between work and having a family. The husbands are also unable to spend time with their kids, let alone help out around the house, because they are expected to spend long hours at work and put in overtime as well. In order to accommodate having women in the work force Japan would need to loosen its expectations on not only the wife’s duties at home, but also the husband’s obligations at work, so both parents can play a role at home.

Overall it seems globally we still have distinct gender roles, and although on the outside it can seem that women are on equal terms with men in the workplace, that might not be the case. To solve this would take a lot of rearranging of the social order. In countries like Canada we need to get rid of the idea of a “supermom” that can do everything in one day, while ideal, it’s not realistic. And in countries like Japan men need to be given as much opportunity to participate in their families’ lives as much a woman should be given equal opportunity to participate in the workforce. This includes equal pay; women in every country should be paid the same amount for the same work regardless of their gender. We need to release the time-squeeze, and give people more time to maintain a healthy home life as well as a healthy life at work.

The Worldwide Abuse of Women

English: American women's earnings by educatio...

English: American women’s earnings by educational attainment, from Women in America (2011) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Olivia Katherine Parker

As an American-born woman, I have a choice. I have a choice to my career, who I marry, whether or not I raise children, and how I spend my future. Women in other countries are not as fortunate. In class, we discussed a few of these cases. For example, Filipino maids face abuse from their employers. Chinese women move to Beijing in order to temporarily escape marriage and to find work in factories that pay low rates. Migrant workers in Japan’s hostess bars have pay withheld from them. Furthermore, mothers from Sri Lanka who need to raise money to feed their children move thousands of miles away to do so. Even in a developed country known as an economic superpower, Japanese husbands oftentimes regard their wives as the domestic half – an idea that was common in American society in the 1950’s. That is not to say that America is the perfect place for women; the Caucasian woman only earns 70 cents to her male Caucasian coworker’s dollar. On top of that, women in America also face prejudice when they decide to live childfree lives or focus on their careers. This boils down to a thought: are women being taken advantage of in a global sense?

It was not long ago that, universally, men were the breadwinners and women were the caretakers. Why is it that in extreme poverty it is the mother who leaves her children behind to earn money for the family? Where are the husbands? Why aren’t they moving thousands of miles away to earn money and why are they allowing their wives to go to such lengths to care for their children?

In class we discussed that human trafficking and sex work are rampant in Japan’s night life. We focused on research by Rhacel Parreñas, who explained that male employers pressured female employees to perform sexual acts in return for money (the definition of prostitution). Parreñas also stated that if an employee was in Japan on an expired visa or any other less-than-legal terms, her pay was almost always withheld at least once.

Recently, we have been seeing a new trend in Japan where fathers are becoming more involved in the early years of their children’s lives. After speaking with several Japanese students I learned that it was common for their fathers to be absent from the home. It wasn’t manly to be seen with their children! After working long hours they would go to the bar and return home late in the night to eat dinner, watch TV, and go to sleep. Now, Japan has laws that allow fathers to take time off work to care for their newborn babies and we are seeing Japanese fathers take on the responsibilities that normally only the wives would have. Still, this is a new trend and it may be looked down upon by old and new generations alike.

Overall, we see a unified theme of women being taken advantage of, whether it is in a domestic setting or the work place. Of course, the severity ranges by location, and the idea that everything is the male’s fault is flawed. Still, the tired belief that women belong in the home needs to change and it is, slowly. Ultimately, we could see a shift in responsibilities between men and women.