Women: International Women’s day – Japan

Company unions and harmonious labour-management relations? Japanese culture is different and Japanese women are obedient? That is not at all what Japan is about. There are working women with some guts!

International Women’s Day. Report from Japan.

Working women with guts!

Twelve women from the gigantic Sumitomo group of companies took their employers to court or sexual discrimination against women. Yatani-san, who works for Sumitomo Chemical Industries, is one of them.

"We have taken Sumitomo group of companies to court for their discrimination against women in wages and promotion.

"I have been working for Sumitomo Chemical Industries for 29 years. All my male counterparts have been promoted to become managers, and are getting paid accordingly, while I have been kept on clerical work at about half their wages.

"I have asked my superior about my prospects for getting promotion, but was only told ’you have not shown any results’. So I asked him to put me in a job where I could prove my ability, but nothing changed. I just felt like I belonged to a different class.

"I appealed to the company union to take up the issue of sex discrimination, but I was just told that ’because I am a woman, I did not have sufficient skills, or I was just not talented enough, therefore I should not expect my superior to recommend me!’

"I also applied for mediation through the Ministry of Labour’s Women and Young Workers’ Office. They took up my case, but the company simply turned it down.

"We have been trying every avenue we can use to publicise our case and raise awareness of discrimination against women at work. We took our report to the ILO and the UN Human Rights Centre. Last year, we participated in the Japan-EU Symposium even though we weren’t invited.

"Government representatives claimed at this symposium that the government has been making efforts to eliminate discrimination against women in Japan, but Japanese culture is different and Japanese women do not work for many years. They also claimed that Japanese people do not like fighting in the court. So we got up and told the symposium that we are fighting our case in the court, because after working for 20-30 years, we are not getting fair treatment – just because we are women.

"We had a very positive response on all these visits. Also, in Japan, the Human Rights Defence Committee of Japan’s Lawyers’ Association issued a recommendation to the trade unions of the Sumitomo group of companies to provide information to their members fighting in the court to end discrimination against women as requested. This is very significant as it is not common that they issue a recommendation in relation to a specific case in process, and also it is the first recommendation issued to trade unions!

"We are determined to see it through. This is not about just our promotion and wages, but for everybody. Our victory will open ways for all other women to win equal treatment. Please give your support so we can end discrimination against women in Japan."

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March 1999