Japan, one of the most industrialized nations on earth with the third largest economy in the world, ranks 105th of 136 countries in gender equality. Though many people in the developed world assume that nations with economic strength and geopolitical power automatically have a positive human rights record, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report places Japan just behind Cambodia for gender equality in 2013.

Not only is Japan’s gender inequality abysmal, it’s only worsened in recent years. According to the Gender Gap Index, Japan has slid from 94th place in 2010 to 98th in 2011, to 101st in 2012. Inequality within the political sphere is even more grim. With its mere eight female parliamentarians, Japan ranks 120th of 136 countries in terms of women in parliament.

In the business sphere, a report by the OECD found that the median salary of a working Japanese mother is 61 percent lower than that of a man in an equivalent situation. By comparison, among the 30 nations that provided similar data, the average discrepancy was 22 percent. Further, women comprise only 2 percent of business directors.

What accounts for such disparity? Japan’s gender inequality is primarily driven by economic factors. In terms of educational attainment, men and women are fairly even. However, the structural realities of the work force reduce women’s earning potential and drive women away from jobs.

First, Japanese companies are hugely disinclined to hire women who leave the work force for extended periods of time to care for their children. Thus, few Japanese mothers are able to rejoin the workforce with full-time work, and large numbers of women are left disenfranchised. The part time work that some mothers are able to find to rejoin the workforce come with low wages. The negative perception of alternative child care arrangements further drives this phenomenon. Japanese women who utilize child care services are looked down upon, and thus mothers leaving the workforce is incentivized.

Long business hours in Japan also exacerbate the issue. Both male and female workers are expected to work late–often remaining at their desks until 10pm–therefore, child care becomes a real issue. Because mothers are generally only able to find lower paid, part-time work, it makes more economic sense for the woman to stay home.

Japan’s legal system in part accounts for gender inequality as well. Gender discrimination laws have a number of gaps and are difficult to enforce. Further, as Yoshiyuki Takeuchi, professor of economics at the University of Osaka, explains “tax, pension, social security, and health insurance are based on the model of a four-person family with a working father and a stay-at-home mother.”

Some financial strategists have suggested that Japan could create eight million jobs by implementing measures that would move the country toward gender equality. With one of the lowest birth rates in the world and an aging population contributing to an ever-shrinking work force, Japan faces increasingly serious economic stagnation.

Thus, not only would boosting gender equality protect the rights of half of its citizens, it would also bring about tangible economic returns at a time when Japan needs it the most.

– Kelley Calkins

Sources: Emory Journal of International Affairs, World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report 2013, Inter Press Service
Photo: The Telegraph

UN Women is an organization that was created in July 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly. The organization’s full name is the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women; its mission is to promote gender equality throughout the world and champion women from all walks of life.

Many women in the world face discrimination in the workplace, and receive fewer opportunities when it comes to career and educational advancement. UN Women sees this kind of gender discrimination happening all over the world, and makes it a part of its agenda to ensure that women have basic and equal human rights. Women are often denied access to health care, and even worse, they lack the political voice to change such conditions because of their stark under-representation in governmental decision making.

One of the major issues on the UN Women’s agenda is the end to violence against women. In a 2013 global review, published by the World Health Organization, it was reported that 35 percent of women in the world have experienced some kind of violence from an intimate partner. UN Women also focuses on the different aspects that are associated with violence against women: sex trafficking, child brides, rape, and sexual harassment in the work or education place.

Partnering with government agencies is an effective way that UN Women is able to take action against the various forms of discrimination against women. UN Women channels its efforts on implementing laws that will help protect women against threats like violence. It also advocates for policies that will open up more economic opportunities for women.

The wage gap between men and women is something that UN Women takes very seriously and seeks to bring to a close by implementing policies that argue for fairness in the workplace. A large part of the organization’s mission to empower women comes from its dedication to spread awareness in response to the AIDS epidemic. Women make up 54 percent of all people living in the world with HIV. UN Women has made it a job to spread awareness on the factors connected to the spread of HIV/AIDS. With the help of its partners, and resources UN Women has been able to broadcast the voice of women living with AIDS and it takes steps to help prevent the spread of the disease.

UN Women is gaining momentum and acquiring more support. Actress, Nicole Kidman, showed her support for the organization during an acceptance speech at the Variety Magazine Power of Women Awards event. Kidman encouraged her audience to see the desperate need for women’s equality in the world.

– Chante Owens

Sources: UN Women, Daily Mail

The loss of a spouse can be one of the most difficult events in life. It is only through mourning the loss with loved ones that one can begin to heal. In Cameroon, and many other developing nations, the mourning and healing process is cut out, diminished, ignored.

Many widows living in developing countries, such as Cameroon, find themselves kicked off their family property by their spouse’s male family members. This is a dreadful experience as families are thrown onto the streets right after they have lost a husband and a father. Despite the 1974 ‘Land Tenure Ordinance’, which guarantees equal access to land for all citizens in Cameroon, many women are still not able to retain their land due to cultural customs.

Customary to many developing states’ cultures, male relatives receive property of the deceased leading to fathers and brothers receiving the property and forcing the deceased’s family into poverty unless the husband’s family decides otherwise. Understandably, this leads to a variety of gender-based social issues. While 80 percent of Cameroon’s food sufficiency is grown by women, only 2 percent of women actually own land. This inequality progresses into economic detriments to the country’s development.

Women are further hampered by land grabs perpetrated by Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and the elites of society, according to Fon Nsoh, coordinator of a local NGO, the Cameroon Movement for the Right to Food (CAMORIF).  One of the most contested of these land grab projects in Cameroon, known as Heracles Farms, was ordered to be halted by the High Court in the South West Region where the project is located. However, this hasn’t calmed Nsoh’s concern that the company will continue its production of a palm oil plantation, roughly 282 square miles in size, or over a quarter the land area of Rhode Island. If continued, this plantation would be created under scandalous negotiations with a 99 year lease.  But it would also take a large portion of land from Cameroon land owners and limit male land ownership which in turn will severely limit the access to land ownership for women. While Cameroonian lawmakers passed the Land Tenure Ordinance in 1974, NGOs, such as Nsoh’s CAMORIF, are pushing for more advancements in society with three clear goals.

One of the current ambitions aims to incorporate women into committees dealing with all land issues to provide half of the country a voice in land rights matters. Secondly, “Land certificates for matrimonial property should be instituted in the joint names of the husband and wife so as to do away with the patriarchal system of inheritance practiced in most of Cameroon,” said Nsoh. These groups call for a simplification of the tedious and burdensome procedures and costs in acquiring land titles.

Michael Carney

Sources: USAID, InterPress Service, N Kong Hilltop
Photo: The Guardian