I chose to interview Ms Iwata, a former government worker for my Global Politics Engagement Activity. I chose to include her as she had an active role in changing legislation to protect working women and because she redefined the value of women working in government jobs. She was involved in the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1986 which greatly changed how women were valued in the workplace. In my interview with her, I hoped to understand more about the gender inequality issues in Japan as well as ask her more about the thought process behind the law and the impact it had on society.
She posted an article about her 50 years of working life, and in this article, she explained how it was difficult for her to get important roles or projects in the first 25 years of her career. In the interview, I inquired about this and she gave me more background on why this may be the case. She explained how 50 years ago, in Japanese society, while men were expected to go to university and get good jobs, women were not and only about 5% went to university. The expected life plan for a woman was to graduate high school, work at a small company and then get married (average age of marriage being 23) and have children. As a result, discrimination in companies was clear with many companies only wishing to hire male employees and many retirement packages for women is set to 30 years old while men would get the regular 65 years old package. She chose to take on a government job because this was the only job that allowed women to work for the entirety of their working life (until 65), however, only one woman was selected each year to join work in the Ministry of Manpower (this one position was also only created because there was a women department that focused on problems related to children and women.) She explained how there were no real opportunities for women to work outside of this department and she often felt discriminated against compared to her male co-workers as she did not receive the same promotions or opportunities. This was very interesting for me to hear and was a great learning for me because I had always anticipated gender inequality was worse in the past but I had never thought it would be this bad.
When I asked her about the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, she explained a lot about the thought process and the team that was working on it. The majority of people were women, and she expressed how they were women that had also faced inequalities in the workplace and were frustrated in the social structures that inhibited women involvement in many workplaces. They were all deeply passionate about creating change in society. However, in reality, when the law was first created in 1986, many aspects had to be compromised as manufacturing industries were heavily against the law (claiming that men and women are fundamentally different and unable to do the same work.) She further explained that when the law was created, it was generally followed on the surface level and everyone knew of it, Japanese companies complied with it in the more obvious ways. One example is that after the law was created, companies could not post recruitment fliers wishing for just male candidates for employment. All companies complied with this. However, when looking beyond into the company, it was still clear there was preferential treatment and very much discrimination still prevalent in the workplace. Creating fundamental change in societal behaviours was a lot harder than just implementing the laws. 40 years later, there have been 2 adaptations to the law and Ms Iwata explained how she believed the law looked to be complete as of now but needed to be tweaked in terms of government guidelines to corporations. This was particularly interesting for me and really made me learn more about the difficulty of implementing laws and implementing different structures into society. However, I am glad that these first steps were taken that allow for more gender equality in the workplace than before.
Lastly, Ms Iwata explained that change is happening in society but too slowly. She wants to create a society that values diversity based on merit. Part of this process includes reconsidering the Japanese working style that typically favours men and reconstructing gender roles to incorporate more modern values. She explains the further importance of straying away from ideals that were valued in the 1970s and consider ways we can adapt our thinking to better fit our current societies for more creativity and innovation. There were many connections with what she said here with things that Ms Tae said in her interview and I was glad to see that many individuals are considering the importance of these things to progress Japan forward.
* The link to the transcript from the meeting can be found here. A picture of the interview was not approved as the interviewee is a public figure.