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IWD2022 at UTokyo: IWD reviewed

Last updated: 12 March 2022

IWD reviewed (1/3): The history of IWD
At the occasion of International Women’s Day 2022, Toward Diversity wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the history and importance of this special day.

Established in 1910 at the International Conference of Working Women, Copenhagen, and a year later throughout Europe, International Women’s Day (IWD) was first organized to campaign for women’s right to vote and work and to put an end to gender discrimination. It gained popularity in the early days of World War I when Russian women rallied for peace, followed by similar women-led groups around Europe, which led to the designation of March 8th as the official International Women’s Day. In the next decades, this day was similarly observed as a way to rally for peace during times of conflict, to advocate for women’s rights, and to show solidarity and sisterhood amongst women.

However, it was not until 1975 that the historical importance of the day was officially recognized by the United Nations, nor until 1996 that a celebration theme was announced by the organisation. Since then, in the new millennium, efforts have been made to bring more awareness to this special day with a focus on celebrating the achievements of women and highlighting remaining gender inequalities.

This year, in 2022, IWD is looking to #BreakTheBias surrounding women’s issues and to raise awareness of biases relating to gender. Have you thought of any ways to support women and #BreakTheBias? 

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IWD reviewed (2/3): A history of women’s rights in Japan
The first wave of feminism in Japan took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Globally, this was a time when women discussed concepts relating to femininity, sexuality, love, and motherhood. In Japan, women organized peace movements and campaigned for the right to vote. However, even after their suffrage rights were recognized by the lower house of the National Diet in 1935, these were not put into effect until a decade later under the new constitution.

Even with these new legalities, the inequality faced by Japanese women persisted into the country’s economic boom of the 1960s, which led many women to question the reasons behind the remaining systemic inequality. Encouraged by other student movements, the Japanese Women’s Liberation Movement was created, which introduced the second wave of feminism to Japan. This period brought the creation of many groups and spaces for women from many backgrounds.

In 1975, the UN’s Decade for Women debuted, prompting Japanese women’s groups to campaign for their government’s signature of the UN Treaty for Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. The subsequent signing in 1979 was fundamental to women’s rights in Japan as it legitimized gender equality nationally.

Since then, many gender equality policies have been enacted, such as the Act of Prevention of Spousal Violence (2001), the Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement of Women in the Workplace (2017), and the Act on Promotion and Gender Equality in the Political Field (2018). But without penalty clauses, these laws remain ineffective, as cautioned by the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2006, 2011 and 2016.

As of 2021, Japan’s Gender Gap Index – which evaluates factors such as health, education, economy, and opportunity – is the lowest among the G7 countries and ranks 121st out of 141 countries. In recent years, with movements like #MeToo and #KuToo, activism has slowly been revitalized, with hope that a new generation of Japanese women will continue to advocate for change.

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IWD reviewed (3/3): IWD and equality perceptions at UTokyo
In the spirit of International Women’s Day (IWD), Toward Diversity has conducted a survey amongst the UTokyo community to examine awareness and opinions of IWD and gender equality on campus and to promote future advancements.

Among the 45 respondents, 51% identified as female, 44% identified as male, while the remaining percentages identified as non-binary or preferred not to answer. Regarding gender issues at UTokyo, 78% of respondents were dissatisfied to some extent by the progress of gender equality on campus. When asked to elaborate on the reasons behind this dissatisfaction, respondents identified the low proportion of female students and faculty, the lack of accommodations for child care, the lack of serious efforts to encourage female enrolment, and bullying against women in academia.

Respondents also shared their hopes for gender equality at UTokyo, which included increasing female enrolment, eliminating discrimination and gender bias on campus, and promoting work/life balance for faculty members without sacrificing professional advancement. Demands for training sessions involving gender issues for faculty members and students were also suggested by some respondents. 

Concerning the celebration of IWD, the survey revealed that, while 84% of respondents had heard about IWD in some form, many were only familiar with the name (46%). Only a minority had read articles and other materials about this day (15%), while only 4% of respondents considered themselves knowledgeable of IWD to a good degree. Despite these results, most individuals noted an interest in participating in events on campus that promote gender equality and better representation of women. Most respondents also felt that celebrating IWD helps to raise awareness about gender issues and promotes future progress both on and off campus. 

Toward Diversity hopes that these results can be used to reflect on the progress that has been made at UTokyo, as well as the one that needs to be made. We also hope that together, we can continue our efforts towards gender equality - Step by Step!

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The history of IWD

-, "History of International Women's Day", November 2020.

- BBC, "International Women's Day 2021: History, marches and celebrations", March 2021.

A history of women’s rights in Japan

- Liu, J., & Yamashita, J. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of East Asian Gender Studies (1st ed.). Routledge, 2019.

IWD and equality perceptions at UTokyo

- Survey by Toward Diversity, February 2022.

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