Japan’s gender gap is the worst among advanced countries globally, due to a lack of women’s economic opportunities and low female representation in the political sphere. We discuss the factors preventing Japan from achieving gender equality in the workplace and in politics, and why the 1986 Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) has not led to significant improvements three decades on.
In the 1970s and 1980s many advanced nations experienced an advancement of women in the labour market, aided by gender equality policies. However, in Japan, three decades after the enactment of the 1986 Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL), there has been limited progress in the workplace, boardrooms and in politics. While gains have been made in female tertiary education, this has not dramatically improved opportunities for women and a large gender gap is pervasive. In this panel, social scientists from diverse disciplinary perspectives examine the changing working and family lives of Japanese women and elucidate on why gender equality remains elusive. Miura’s paper investigates the gender bias embedded in the electoral system and recruitment process of political parties. She argues that the stagnation of gender equality policy in Japan results not only from the few number of women politicians, but also from the dynamism of partisan competition in which gender equality has drawn scant political attention. Macnaughtan investigates whether employment in Japan is fragmenting into a new construct of gender (promoted by so-called 'Womenomics' policy) or whether the resilience of the old gendered system will hold strong. She argues that the way both women and men are expected to work has not significantly changed since the early post-war years, and that, despite equal employment legislation, the current system discriminates against both sexes in Japan. One of the most notable changes since the late 1990s in Japan is the widening inequality between households and Shirahase investigates mothers’ work and inequality among children from an international perspective. She finds that cross-nationally the increase in the number of well-paid mothers does not appear to be negatively associated with fertility.