Family Life and Working Life: Family Responsibility

Japan has made efforts in various institutional aspects, such as passing the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1985, to achieve gender equality. However, we still have problems to tackle to achieve real gender equality in social life. The following are the measures Japan has taken in the fields of daily life, education, the workplace, etc., with a view to promoting women's participation in society.

Measures Promoting Compatibility Between Working Life and Family Life

Today, we can see many women participating as actively as men in various fields. However, due to the traditional gender role stereotypes, household chores such as child-rearing, care for the aged and so on have hindered many women in taking full advantage of their abilities. Japan has taken measures to overcome these problems for women and enable them to accomplish work and family responsibilities at the same time. In this context, Japan has ratified the International Labour Organisation Convention Number 156 in June 1995. Japan will continue to promote these measures systematically.

Strategies for Child-Rearing

It is very important, inter alia, to establish an environment which enables women to take full advantage of their experience and ability, managing to do their jobs, care for children, and care for their families consistently.

As for caring for children, the Child Care Leave Law went into effect in 1992 to ensure that the necessity of time spent caring for children would not discourage women from participating in society. This Law recognizes the right of female and male employees to apply for and receive child care leave for a desired period of time up until the child reaches one year of age. Moreover, a Child Care Leave Benefit System was established to support employees who take child care leave, providing 25% of their wages during the leave.

Furthermore, Japan has initiated the "Angel Plan." This plan recognizes child care support as an issue to be grappled with by the whole society, and prescribes measures to take in the next ten years in general, including the establishment of diverse child care support strategies.

Strategies for Aging

Japanese society is aging faster than ever before. Nevertheless, while it is estimated that 17.0% of the total population will be over 65 years old by the year 2000 (compared to 14.1% in 1994), the capacity of nursing in the household is declining. Nursing care for the aged has become a pivotal issue in Japan.

For women, particularly, care for the aged is a critical issue in two senses. First, it is a decisive issue for women, who have a longer average life expectancy than men, affecting how comfortably they will be able to live out their old age. Second, like caring for children, many households have regarded care for the aged as a role women should take. As a result, women have had the burden to take care of the elderly, and thus have been at a disadvantage to participate in society compared to men.

To prepare for the onset of the aged society, Japan adopted the "Ten-Year Strategy to Promote Health Care and Welfare for the Aged (the Gold Plan)" in 1989, which included approximate targets for urgent development of in-home services and facility services to be achieved up through FY1999. This plan, having been subjected to a complete review in December 1994, became the New Gold Plan, which raised the approximate targets and has been in implementation since FY1995.

Meanwhile, those who work sometimes have to leave their jobs to take care of their families. In June 1995, the Child Care Leave Law was amended to introduce Family Care Leave Schemes which enabled workers to keep their jobs after taking leave to take care of their families. With this amendment, from April 1999, workers will be able to take a leave of up to three months when they have a family member who needs care.

Measures Relating to Education

Education to Achieve Gender Equality

Japan has made efforts to overcome the gender role stereotypes in the family, community and society by changing the perception of gender equality through the promotion of school, social and family education.

In school education, Japan has emphasized and strengthened teaching students the dignity of individuals and the essential equality of both genders. For example, in upper secondary schools, home education has become compulsory for all students in 1994, whereas it had been compulsory only for female students. This is based on the need for all students to master the knowledge and skills necessary for adjusting to changes in society and the environment and for managing family life through the cooperation of both genders. Moreover, in the field of family education, Japan has made efforts to promote the involvement of fathers, by, for example, giving financial support to local public entities which sponsor lectures in workplaces.

Promotion of Women's Participation In Society

To promote women's participation in society, it is necessary to enhance educational opportunities. Japan has made efforts to enhance opportunities for women to learn throughout their lives by diversifying access to higher education, promoting family education, and other measures. Further, it has endeavored to promote women's participation in society by promoting volunteer activities, training women's organizations, strengthening the activities of the National Women's Education Center, and so on.

Discussion of Amending the Civil Code

Present Japanese civil code assures de jure equality between wife and husband, as long as wife and husband use the same surname. Which surname should be registered depends on their decision at the time of their marriage, but in practice, most couples use the husband's surname and "a woman changes her surname when she marries." Social movements have arisen against the existing system since the 1970s, demanding de facto equality between women and men, and elimination of the disadvantages for working women who have to change their surnames. This is why the Japanese Government is considering the possibility of introducing a new system which will allow couples to use different surnames if they so desire. Besides this, integrating different minimum ages for marriage for women and men and shortening the interval during which women are prohibited from remarriage from 6 months to 100 days are also being planned.

To Establish Women's Status in Agricultural Management

Agricultural, forestry and fishing industries in Japan are managed, in many cases, in family units. Women who work in these industries play important roles in family life and in the regional community as well. These women, however, are sometimes overburdened by their roles, and are often under-appreciated in management, compared to their actual roles. Therefore, it is very important to resolve the above-mentioned problems, and support both the family life and working life of women working in these industries.

In Japan, as one of the measures taken for women in rural areas to promote compatibility between family life and working life, guidance has been given through the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service. Moreover, in 1992, to promote gender equality, "New Roles for Rural Women in Japan in 2001" was formulated. To achieve this goal, Japan is promoting women's participation in management, clarification of the working conditions and stabilization of the livelihood of elderly women working in agriculture. As one of the measures to this end, the Farmers' Pension Fund Law was amended in June 1995 so as to allow women working in agriculture to enter the pension scheme more easily.

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