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Women's situation in Japan: gender-based violence and the Shiori Ito case

Women's situation in Japan has always been complicated and little considered within the political-institutional bodies. Although some steps were taken in the 1980s thanks to the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women, aimed at eliminating any type of gender inequality in the workplace, to date, the employment framework for women is not yet changed and is not on the same level as the male one.

The percentage of female parliamentarians in Japan is quite significant. In fact the latter are only 10% compared to a world average of 25%. Furthermore, Japan is the second country, after Korea, to have the highest gender gap (i.e. the wage gap). The employment rate also shows a substantial difference between men and women; in 2019, the data showed an improvement in the employment of women between the ages of 20 and 30. However, many of the jobs considered were part-time. Another condition relating to gender inequality in Japan was registered in the university environment: the famous case of Tokyo Medical University in 2018 in which discrepancies were found in the correction of university entrance tests in order to admit more men than women.

Starting in the '70s feminist movements started to emerge to strive to improve the condition of women. Among them, Jiosei to Seiji born at the end of the '90s and focused on increasing the number of female politicians and Women’s action network, lead by Chizuko Ueno,  which supports women in many sectors and in different ways. The former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in office for the second term from 2012 to 2020, had promised that he would help Japanese women to get out of this condition of inequality by promoting womenomics, a set of rules that would allow the creation of a "society in which women could shine"

Beside work and educational-equality, there's namely the problem -until recently not too much debated- of gender-based violence in Japan.

In Japan the lack of convictions against men who raped or killed women are countless and shocking. For this reason many victims are afraid of taking such a long and difficult path, which could lead them to be judged and to feel unprotected by their own country. According to the Japanese Cabinet statistics show that 60% of women do not report the violence suffered.

However, Shiori Ito, a young reporter set herself against this disheartening scenario. In 2015, while in Tokyo for a business dinner, Shiori Ito was raped by Noriyuki Yamaguchi, former chief journalist of Tokyo's Washington Broadcasting System and biographer of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In the following days, Shiori found the courage to report the violence and take a legal path against her rapist, despite the attempts to make her desist by police officers and her own lawyer. When she lost the criminal case, she did not give up and took a civil case to obtain justice, demanding compensation for the violence she suffered. In December 2019, the first instance ruling proved her right, allowing her to start a process that is still ongoing today.

Shiori Ito represents for sure the first woman in the Japanese history to expose herself publicly, including through press-conference, to denounce her rapist. For this reason she's become a true female icon for Japanese women and her book, Black Box, has become the manifesto against gender-based violence in Japan. One of the main nuclei of the book is to be found in the denunciation that Shiori makes of the difficult path that women must undertake at a cultural and legal level, due to a system that does not protect her and that always tries to justify the violence of men.

The figure of Shiori Ito gave life to the #metoo movement, which was also born a few months before the American one. This movement is often also called #wetoo, on the one hand, to underline its collective nature, the solidarity that is created and which implies a "we women"; on the other hand, this collectivity is due to the Japanese cultural context, which makes it more difficult and dangerous to put one's face to denounce gender-based violence. Black Box is therefore not only a personal story but also, and above all, the basis for seeking change for women in Japan. Taking a cue from the pages of this book, another movement was born in 2019, the Flower demo; following shocking sentences regarding serious sexual crimes, such as the acquittal of men who raped 12-13 year old girls, the movement has grown more and more. These movements have as their main objective that of creating solidarity among the victims, longer and fairer sentences for the aggressors and, above all, of introducing a reflection on the theme of consent. In Japan, in fact, many victims have been accused of not having explicitly opposed, suggesting that the consent was given to their aggressor.

Shiori Ito has certainly taken a difficult path, giving also that she receives daily harassment on the internet, especially for having talked to the “foreign” BBC and having agreed to shoot a documentary on her history; but, thanks to her and the courage of many other Japanese women, for the first time something is changing with regard to the condition of women.

Translated by Valeria Pasquali


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  • L'Autore

    Elisa Capitani

    Studentessa al primo anno di magistrale in Letterature moderne, comparate e postcoloniali a Bologna, Elisa Capitani è da sempre appassionata al mondo della letteratura e della scrittura. Ha un forte interesse anche per le lingue e le culture straniere, ha ottenuto infatti una laurea triennale in Lingue e letterature straniere all’Università degli studi di Milano.

    Accanto a queste passioni, ha svolto un periodo di 4 anni di volontariato come soccorritrice della Croce Rossa, perché ha sempre creduto nell’importanza del volontariato, nel battersi per gli altri. È stato grazie a questa esperienza e ai corsi universitari, che il suo interesse verso i temi dei diritti umani si è sempre di più ampliato. Quando è venuta a conoscenza di questa realtà giovane, dinamica e attiva in campi importanti, quale è Mondo Internazionale, ha subito pensato che fosse l’occasione perfetta per poter coniugare l’importanza che hanno per lei il volontariato e le cause dei diritti umani, insieme alla sua grande passione, la scrittura. Il Team del progetto “Diritti Umani” l’ha accolta calorosamente come suo membro e sente che insieme a loro avrà la possibilità di poter parlare di quei temi che tanto l’appassionano. Condivide infine con Mondo Internazionale la convinzione che tramite le nostre parole si possa fare la differenza non soltanto per noi, ma per tutte quelle persone che non possono scrivere e lottare per loro stesse.

    A first-year student in Modern, Comparative and Postcolonial Literature in Bologna, Elisa Capitani has always been passionate about the world of literature and writing. She also has a strong interest in foreign languages and cultures, in fact she obtained a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and literature at the University of Milan.

    In addition to these passions, she has worked as a volunteer for four years as a Red Cross rescuer, because she has always believed in the importance of volunteering, in fighting for others. It was thanks to this experience and the university courses, that her interest in human rights issues has increasingly expanded. When she became aware of this reality of Mondo Internazionale, which is young, dynamic and active in important fields, she immediately thought it was the perfect opportunity to combine the importance of volunteering and the causes of human rights for her, along with his great passion, writing. The team of the project "Human Rights" welcomed her warmly as its member and feels that together with them she will have the opportunity to talk about those issues that fascinate her so much. Finally, she shares with Mondo Internazionale the conviction that through our words we can make a difference not only for ourselves, but for all those people who cannot write and fight for themselves.

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