While women around the world are governing countries, leading central banks, running companies and coaching tennis stars, in Japan they’re being subject to sexist taunts from the Dark Ages.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to increase access to the country’s notoriously inadequate daycare facilities, extend maternity leave and encourage companies to name female board members in a highly publicised campaign against gender inequality. But these remain well-intentioned proposals at best, undermined by a deep-rooted patriarchy and a widely held notion that a woman’s place is at home, raising kids in her geta sandals.
Last week, these traits were on display for all to see, as Ayaka Shiomura, a Tokyo assemblywoman, was reduced to tears by the jeering of her male colleagues when she called on the local government to assist women with child rearing and to fund infertility treatments. Her crime? Being single and childless.
Japan’s male leaders have a long history of sexism, calling women baby-making machines and labeling career women selfish for delaying childbirth and undeserving of pensions. Even in companies, women are expected to serve the tea at meetings, no matter their position.
Japanese men are clearly oblivious to just how badly they need women to take on more jobs and be more involved in governing. Japan ranks behind Saudi Arabia in the proportion of women in parliament, according to a gender-gap report by the World Economic Forum. Its working-age population is set to shrink by almost half by 2060. Japan’s GDP could rise by as much as 13 percent by closing the gender employment gap, according to a Goldman Sachs report.
Criticising an assemblywoman in a public meeting for her choices is hardly assuring. Japanese men may try leaning in a bit.
The South Korean ferry tragedy is not the only bit of sad news about school children this month; days before, gunmen had stormed a girls’ school in Chibok in Nigeria’s north-eastern state of Borno, and abducted more than 200 students. Dozens managed to escape, with no trace of the remainder. The police called off the search this week, leaving frantic parents to search the forest themselves.
The mass kidnap was allegedly by Islamist group Boko Haram, which is linked to the al-Qaeda. Boko Haram means “western education is a sin”, and the group has been waging a violent campaign to impose shariah law, which appears to be particularly opposed to girls’ formal education. Earlier this year, it killed more than 50 students elsewhere in the country.
More people are obviously familiar with the story of Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban in Swat Valley as she returned from school, for refusing to back down on her activism for education for girls. The U.N. has declared July 12 Malala Day.
There is very little media coverage, let alone accolades for the millions of marginalised children who are denied an education because of discrimination. A Human Rights Watch report this week highlights the widespread discrimination against Indian school children belonging to tribal groups, so-called lower castes and minority communities. It cites Unicef’s estimate that 80 million Indian children will drop out before completing elementary school and lays some of the blame on discrimination and intimidation. This, despite the passage of the Right to Education Act in 2010, which mandates free and compulsory education for all children aged 6 to 14 years. Most examples in the HRW report are of boys, because girl children are often not allowed to go to school at all.
What is a harder problem to have: fearing discrimination against your child in school or fearing your child’s safe return from school?
As an adult, I have attempted to rise above the feeling of ‘sticking out like a sore thumb’ which I constantly experienced growing up. I now realise that 3 years of living in London had given me a false sense of belonging or at least blending in. Once more resident in T&T, that façade has been summarily shattered.
Although the population of Trinidad and Tobago has a relatively high percentage of inter-racial mixing, the proportion of said population with lighter skin tones is quite low (in my experience). Low enough that one tends to do a double take when a very light skinned person walks in, and some people even assume that you are not from Trinidad. An important caveat: this is definitely a more common phenomenon in South Trinidad as the proportion of “Trinidad whites” is much lower there than in Port of Spain and environs.
Some would say that I should be used to being singled out for my appearance. Yet it never ceases to discomfit and unsettle me, and even more so when it happens in the work place.
There was a recent and unfortunate incident at work which left me reeling. I sought the opinion of a varied cross section of people to gauge their feelings on it, and the majority viewed it as coming with the territory of being “fair”. In their view, being singled out and taken to task for imaginary infringements of a non-existent dress code policy, and by the least appropriately dressed person in the Company, is something which I must expect because I am “fair”. In their words, I stand out, so my appearance is highlighted and attention is focused on me and clothing missteps real and imagined.
That was actually the second time I was ludicrously singled out for work attire, previously, and incredibly, being informed that I would no longer be able to wear very sensible, neat ballet flats to work but instead should wear high heeled shoes. Seriously? Only me, mind.
No matter how much you rationalize discrimination, whatever the category, it still rankles.