Gender gaps run deep in Japanese society, says UN official


Gender gaps remain wide in Japan as traditional gender roles are heavily reinforced in society and through mass media, leaving many women accustomed to restrictive norms and limited opportunities, according to a senior UN official.

“There’s nothing you can’t do because you’re a woman. It’s important to put in the effort, to believe that you can do anything,” said Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for disarmament affairs, in a recent interview. with Kyodo News.

(Izumi Nakamitsu speaks in an interview with Kyodo News on February 18, 2020.)

Nakamitsu, the highest-ranking Japanese in the United Nations, pointed out that the roles of men and women are molded to the public in various ways, including by popular media.

“In (Japanese) TV talk shows, men discuss difficult topics while female presenters are on the set like ornaments. Also in TV dramas, you can see men holding a business meeting and women serve tea,” she said.

As a result, Japanese children are conditioned to accept gender boundaries as a natural part of society, Nakamitsu said, adding that such norms have been internalized to a highly abnormal degree in the country.

Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government aims to increase the rate of women in leadership positions to around 30% by this year, the target is apparently still out of reach.

Nakamitsu, who studied law in Tokyo and obtained a master’s degree in foreign service at Georgetown University in Washington, has held various positions within and outside the United Nations system, which she first joined in the twenteeth. She served in the Crisis Response Unit of the United Nations Development Program before assuming her current position in May 2017.

Her husband is a Swedish diplomat. The country’s system of parliamentary elections involves an equal number of male and female candidates, leading to a roughly equal split of political posts between the sexes.

The Japanese parliament, unlike the governing bodies of many countries, remains dominated by male legislators.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his address in January that the international body had managed to equalize the number of men and women in leadership positions two years ahead of its original schedule.

The United Nations aims to achieve gender parity across its workforce by 2028.

As Japan lags behind in the international fight for women’s equality, Nakamitsu, 56, hailed Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi’s recent decision to take parental leave following the birth of her son. first child.

She noted that the Swedish ambassador to the United Nations had done the same over 20 years ago, taking parental leave and working reduced hours to be active in raising children.

“The actions of leaders are very important in terms of changing organizational culture,” Nakamitsu said.

The UN official said Japanese women should strive to be productive in the workplace so that employers want to hire and retain them, while companies must also ensure fair evaluation of women and workers. men without discrimination against those taking parental leave.

Faced with gender gaps, Nakamitsu urged Japanese women to consider seeking opportunities overseas if they feel unfulfilled.

“If you don’t like the situation (in Japan), you can go out into the outside world,” she advised. “In the end, it’s Japan’s loss.”


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