I chose to interview a female lawyer for my Global Politics EA because I believed her job was quite specialised and I wanted to see how gender equality issues were like in her workplace. Furthermore, she has been in charge of many power harassment or sexual harassment cases so I thought it would be interesting to hear her opinions on gender inequality issues in Japan.
When asked whether she has faced gender-related issues in the workplace, she has said that her issues would not compare to those in other mainstream larger companies because her job is specialised and there is a lot of awareness about the importance of female lawyers. However, she has been looked down on slightly when it came to a client’s treatment of her. Some clients prefer older men over her as a traditional belief in Japanese society is that the older man will know more than the younger female lawyer. She even shared a specific example of when she was working with the president of a company for an extended period of time on a project. When the project ended, the president asked “when are you going to become a lawyer?”, he had assumed that she was an assistant the entire time. Hearing her story was quite shocking to me because I have heard of cases like these existing but for a highly qualified lawyer to also be looked down on like this simply because of gender issues highlighted to me how prominent these issues are in Japanese society.
She also expressed the difficulties of raising children while working. Daycare services are very limited in Japan and a real solution to this problem has not been created in the last decade since the issue has been brought to light. This has made it increasingly difficult for working mothers to continue working after giving birth. She explains how even though there are no real differences in the pay that you would receive from each client, being a male or female, there were differences in the total created by each employee because of the amount of time single men could spend on their work in comparison to working mothers. These men were, therefore, able to forge stronger connections and work for longer hours which does result in older men gaining more income than females. She also explained that there was a lot of pressure on her to give birth and be a “proper” woman from her family background. Getting into a top university in Japan meant that her family members made comments like “I’m worried you won’t be able to get married because you got into a good university” or “get married and have lots of children.” Though there was no ill intent in these comments, it proves once again the implicit cultural norms of gender roles that are being passed on to every generation with a lack of awareness about how women may also want to prioritise their careers. This reinforced to me the cultural factors that had influenced Japanese society and beliefs that were so ingrained into individual’s beliefs.
Lastly, she discussed the importance of changing educational systems to change awareness of such issues. There is a lack of political involvement or awareness amongst the Japanese population and the current educational system reinforces simply listening to superiors, rather than questioning their beliefs. This culture needs to change for women to be able to rise into positions of power. Many women that also run for office face harassment cases (that I’ve been in charge of), while these often aren’t focused on in the media it is a huge issue that needs to change for more political involvement for women. The most important thing is transferring leadership and power to young people of diverse backgrounds. When she discussed this, I was again slightly shocked to hear the power harassment cases for women that run for office and I too believe in the importance of questioning and changing leadership to address this structural violence in the system.
* The link to the transcript from the meeting can be found here. A picture of the interview was not approved to be shown as the interviewee would like to remain anonymous