Women took part for a first time in a former male-centric tradition at the Japanese Hadaka matsuri

Japan's gender inequality persists, with women participating in traditional festivals and low representation in politics and management positions, despite efforts to eliminate discrimination through the CEDAW Convention.

Women took part for a first time in a former male-centric tradition at the Japanese Hadaka matsuri
Japanese men taking part in the traditional Hadaka matsuri. by Jordan Sitkin, via Flickr, 2006/January 9th

23-05-2024

Pauliina Majasaari

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

 

 

For the first time women were allowed to participate in a long-standing Japanese tradition, Hadaka matsuri also known as the ‘naked festival’. Traditionally, thousands of men strip almost naked, showcasing Japanese masculinity, by jostling around their local area trying to get as close as possible to a man exhibiting the role of a shin-otoko, regarded as a godman who wards off bad luck.[1] Even though the ritual showcases Japan’s strong dedication to traditions and cultural heritage, it also brings to the front the struggles of gender inequality, where women are excluded from cultural traditions as only men are considered to be pure in the Japanese culture.[2]

 

Japan is known for upholding its deep-rooted cultural expectations of traditional gender roles, where the woman is expected to be a housewife and subservient to the man, rather than an equal and a working citizen.[3] Such can be seen, for example through the fact that it is men who hold the highest offices and most of the positions at well-known private firms and as such women’s representation in politics and management positions are low.[4] Even though the demographics of Japan are changing, by a growing number of ageing population and a decrease in the number of young men, it is questioned why women are still expected to stay home rather than work, when the additional workforce would be crucial for boosting Japan’s economy.[5] However, due to the traditional gender roles, women face a double burden in life due to having expectations of taking care of the household and the children in addition to going to work, which usually leads to the women holding part-time and non-regular work positions in lower paying jobs than men.[6]

 

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) sets out in article 5 the duty of state parties to take all appropriate measures to modify social and cultural patterns of conduct between men and women with the aim to eliminate prejudices and practices which are based on stereotyped roles of men and women and recognising the fact that the upbringing of children is a common responsibility of men and women.[7] Moreover, according to article 7 of CEDAW state parties have a duty to eliminate discrimination against women in the political life of the country and for women to be able to hold public office and participate in the formulation of government policy.[8]Lastly, article 11 of CEDAW sets out the equal right to work and the places a duty on the state to eliminate all discrimination against women within employment.[9] This includes, amongst others, the right to free choice of profession, to promotion, job security and enjoyment of all benefits as well as encouraging the provisions of necessary supportive social services, such as childcare facilities for the parents to be able to combine family obligations with work.[10]

 

Japan is violating above all article 5 of CEDAW, by upholding the deep-rooted male-centric cultural values and traditional gender roles, where the woman is expected to take care of domestic chores and of the upbringing of children on their own. Moreover, the rights and duties contained within article 7 are not fully realised, as in theory women have the possibility to run for elections and hold public office but in reality, only a minor percentage of political or roles of power are held by women.[11] However, some strides have been taken forward by Japan, as last September a woman politician was appointed as the foreign minister and a woman became the president and CEO of Japan Airlines, however the number of females remains very low as less than 13 percent of senior or leadership positions are occupied by women.[12] Article 11 is similarly violated by the existing practices in Japan, as in principle businesses are promoting gender equality, however due to the traditional gender roles women do not have equal access to similar work opportunities as men due to their sole responsibility for upkeep of the household and upbringing of children. This leads to the fact that women are unable to aim for higher roles as it requires longer working hours and women do not have the time for such due to their responsibilities outside of work life. Furthermore, as mentioned women in Japan conduct mostly non-regular work, which entails that the employment is not as secured as regular work, the wages are far less, fewer benefits are present, and are temporary or part-time in nature, as compared to men conducting regular work positions, which give stronger job security, higher wages and more benefits.[13] Additionally, studies have shown that mean are more likely to be promoted within their field of work solely due to their gender.[14]

 

Consequently, Japan is urged to take measures to bring women to an equal footing with men and ensure the rights against discrimination contained within CEDAW are realised for every woman living in Japan. To ensure equality of men and women, Japan is asked to conduct studies and research into the core problems of gender inequality, and as a primary aim to include women, youth groups, academics and policy makers within the studies, to be able to make a long-lasting change to national policies, cultural traditions and education, and thereby to the persisting gender inequality problem in Japan.[15]

 

 

 

[1] Himari Semans and Chris Lau, ‘Women’s participation in ‘naked festival’ a sign of how aging is forcing changes to male-centric Japanese traditions’ (CNN, 10 May 2024) <https://edition.cnn.com/2024/05/10/asia/japan-ageing-population-women-opportunities-intl-hnk/index.html> accessed 22 May 2024.

[2] ibid.

[3] Sarah Parsons, ‘How gender inequality in hindering Japan’s economic growth’ (The Conversation, 17 August 2023) <https://theconversation.com/how-gender-inequality-is-hindering-japans-economic-growth-206537> accessed 23 May 2024.

[4] Himari Semans and Chris Lau (n 1).

[5] ibid.

[6] Emma Dalton, ‘Japan’s stubborn gender inequality problem’ (East Asia Forum, 28 June 2022) <https://eastasiaforum.org/2022/06/28/japans-stubborn-gender-inequality-problem/> accessed 23 May 2024.

[7] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (adopted 18 December 1979, entered into force 3 September 1981) 1249 UNTS 13 (CEDAW), article 5 (a).

[8] CEDAW, article 7 (a) and (b).

[9] CEDAW, article 11 (1) (a); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 3 January 1967) 993 UNTS 3 (ICESCR), article 6.

[10] CEDAW, article 11 (1 (c) and (2) (c).

[11] Kazuo Yamaguchi, ‘Japan’s Gender Gap’ (IMF, March 2019) <https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2019/03/gender-equality-in-japan-yamaguchi> accessed 23 May 2024.

[12] Himari Semans and Chris Lau (n 1).

[13] Kazuo Yamaguchi (n 11).

[14] ibid.

[15] Sarah Parsons (n 3).

 

 

Sources and further readings:

 

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (adopted 18 December 1979, entered into force 3 September 1981) 1249 UNTS 13 (CEDAW).

 

Emma Dalton, ‘Japan’s stubborn gender inequality problem’ East Asia Forum (28 June 2022) <https://eastasiaforum.org/2022/06/28/japans-stubborn-gender-inequality-problem/> accessed 23 May 2024.

 

Himari Semans and Chris Lau, ‘Women’s participation in ‘naked festival’ a sign of how ageing is forcing changes to male-centric Japanese traditions’ CNN (10 May 2024) <https://edition.cnn.com/2024/05/10/asia/japan-ageing-population-women-opportunities-intl-hnk/index.html> accessed 22 May 2024.

 

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 3 January 1967) 993 UNTS 3 (ICESCR).

 

 Kazuo Yamaguchi, ‘Japan’s Gender Gap’ IMF (March 2019) <https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/fandd/issues/2019/03/gender-equality-in-japan-yamaguchi> accessed 23 May 2024.

 

Sarah Parsons, ‘How gender inequality in hindering Japan’s economic growth’ The Conversation (17 August 2023) <https://theconversation.com/how-gender-inequality-is-hindering-japans-economic-growth-206537> accessed 23 May 2024.