Alongside research on gender equality, we have conducted outreach to promote gender mainstreaming at the University of Tokyo. 


LAST UPDATED: 9 May 2020

Interactive Evening Lounge (IEL)

IELs are multidisciplinary gatherings organised by students and faculty members in the GSDM Program at the University of Tokyo. The aim is to bring together members of the university, as well as external practitioners, to discuss important contemporary topics in a relaxed setting.

Gender Series

Alongside our research and development project, we organised a three-part series of workshops on gender equality in Japan. The "Gender Series" of IELs aimed to raise awareness of gender among both students and faculty members at our university, starting with a focus on GSDM. The Gender Series traced the following progression:

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

The aim of the first workshop was to encourage participants to identify factors which have given rise to the modern concept of gender in Japan. In doing so, we hoped 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 in order 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 promoting holistic sustainable development) catalysed the discussion.

Flow of three-part IEL Gender Series

Participants during policy-making session of the second IEL Gender Series workshop.

In order to achieve objective (ii), we organised a policy scenario game. The 15 participants were divided into two teams, and presented with imaginary policies designed to promote gender equality in either academia or industry in Japan. One policy focused on extreme affirmative action in academia, and the other on gender-blind recruitment in industry. However, the policies were intentionally designed with flaws. Participants were required to identify flaws, decide to amend or reject the policy, and propose an improved or alternative policy. The IEL ended with group presentations, and further discussion over dinner. 

After the IEL, several participants (both male and female) reported feeling empowered and inspired by the workshop, suggesting it successfully fulfilled its objectives.

Part 3: Proposing methods to reduce gender imbalance - Presentation and discussion

In the third workshop, the focus changed from analysis to implementation. We presented the results of our research and development project to students and faculty in the GSDM program, as well as social science experts from the University of Tokyo. The aim was to gather feedback in order to develop our findings on gender equality among researchers at our university into measurable positive change.

Summary of achievements

In sum, the main outputs from the IEL Gender Series are:

- Raising awareness of gender equality among members of the GSDM program.

- Creating a platform for interaction between social change-makers in NGOs, industry and academia and students at the University of Tokyo.

- Inspiring students to think about how they can contribute to creating a more inclusive environment during their careers as researchers and beyond. 

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.

Part 2: Analysing progress towards gender equality - Policy-making workshop

In the second two-hour workshop, the focus shifted from understanding to analysing. The aims were: (i) to encourage participants to analyse how gender influences decision making, both on individual and institutional levels, and (ii) to propose potential improvements to policies overlapping with gender in academia and industry.

In order to achieve objective (i), guest speakers from academia and industry, including a member of the NGO WomEnpowered International, shared perspectives on the relation between gender and decision making in their fields. In parallel, ahead of the workshop we organised an online survey for GSDM students, which investigated how gender influences major life choices such as further study, raising a family, and career development. Around 25 respondents took part, and the results were shared during the IEL. These two approaches allowed us to consider the intersection between gender and both individual and institutional decision making. 

Participant during brainstorming session of the first IEL Gender Series workshop.

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