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IEL Gender Series

Last updated: 16 October 2020

Part 1: Understanding causes of gender imbalance in Japan - Documentary screening

The aim of this workshop was to encourage participants to develop their awareness of gender.


The two-hour session began with a screening of the documentary "Japan's Secret Shame", which introduced the dangers of gender imbalance in Japan. Next, the 20 participants were divided into three groups, and brainstormed to: (i) propose a definition of gender equality, and (ii) develop a short narrative explaining how "gender" has taken its current form in Japan. Invited guests from the University of Tokyo's Office for Gender Equality and from The Global Summit (a US-based NGO for holistic sustainable development) catalysed the discussion.


Participant during brainstorming session at the first IEL Gender Series workshop


Logo of IEL Gender Series

After the event, we combined the main learning points put forward by the three teams. According to participants:

(i) Definition of gender equality: Gender equality is related to freedom of expression. It begins with the freedom to decide one own’s future, and to be supported by equal access to resources and opportunities. It continues and is sustained by respect, the prevention of discrimination, and a non-judgemental environment.

(ii) How the concept of gender in Japan has taken form: Teams independently agreed that negative and hard-to-modify effects on gender equality include history and tradition, which give rise to gender-defined role models, internalised biases, and a concept of social specialisation which is anchored in a gender-differentiating common sense. As a result of the clear-cut images of gender in Japanese culture, it is hard to speak up about sexual harassment. All teams agreed that education is key to change perceptions and develop solutions, although this is also a difficult area to modify. Social media can play both a positive and negative role, either reinforcing existing gender biases, or acting as a vehicle for movements of positive change such as #MeToo. One team made the thought-provoking point that decision makers in Japan are usually old and not fully aware of the possibility for positive impact by social media, and it seems this could easily be remedied. Legislation for gender equality has had a beneficial impact, but more progress can only happen through better enforcement, especially regarding gender violence. Ultimately, the greatest impact has to come through organisational change: the workplace ecosystem should focus on gender equity through an effective family support platform, which encourages balanced childcare and elderly care. Finally, this returns to the idea of changing deep-rooted traditions on gender, which seems most effective through transmission of responsible gender roles and education at home.

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