On Women's Centers in Japan

By Omi, Miho | Social Justice, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

On Women's Centers in Japan


Omi, Miho, Social Justice


Introduction

In Japan there are facilities for women, often called "JOSEI SENTA" (Women's centers) that offer support to women and aim to facilitate the building of equality between women and men. Most women's centers are planned and administered by prefectural or municipal governments. These centers provide space for women's activities and offer courses and seminars on everything from cooking to "Women in Development." Some facilities have resource centers or libraries that provide women with access to a wide range of information. Some also offer counseling services to help women who are having problems with the family, personal relationships, or work. These services are provided free of charge or for a small fee.

Why is the Japanese government willing to spend a substantial amount of money on women's centers? It is sometimes difficult for foreigners to understand why national and local governments provide money, facilities and other necessities to help women advance their status in society. They identify women's struggle for equality as a social movement and one that usually finds itself in conflict with such state organs.

In this article, I wish to briefly describe the relationship between Japanese women, who are struggling to solve the problems they face and to advance their status in society, and the government, which establishes public women's centers. How women's issues came to be included in official public policy in Japan and how women's centers can be of use to women will be discussed below through a case study of Yokohama. Please note that this article deals with only a small part of the Japanese women's movement and that there are many women working to improve their situation and advance their status.

International Women's Year and Japanese Women's Policy

There was an active women' s movement in the early 1970s in Japan. It was at this time that many Japanese women first encountered the ideas of feminism. They organized consciousness-raising groups, sought their own ways of expression, and started to look at society from women's perspectives. However, this movement is remembered with a sort of cynicism by the average Japanese only as "wooman libu" (women's liberation), stemming from the imagery surrounding some radicals highlighted by the media at the time. This "radical" image prevented the movement from reaching a wider range of women and effecting the change in their consciousness and attitudes that would have been necessary to influence Japanese society or public policies.

In recent years, Japanese policies on women's issues have been most greatly affected by the United Nations International Women's Year in 1975 and by the U.N. Decade for Women, which followed. To understand precisely how and why U.N. policies affect Japanese domestic policies would require an entirely different article. However, briefly put, Japan's admittance to the U.N. was welcomed by the Japanese people as proof that Japan had recovered its status in the post-World War II international arena. Accordingly, major U.N. policies have generally been respected by the Japanese government and integrated into national policies.

In addition, the international women's movement, which lobbied for the proclamation of international Women's Year, and the Japanese women's movement, which sought to take advantage of the opportunities offered by International Women's Year, helped the Japanese government realize the necessity of including women's issues in its policies. For example, the Japanese Liaison Group for the Implementation of the Resolution from the International Women 's Year Conference was formed by 41 groups on a nationwide scale. They resolved to hold a national conference in Japan and to promote solidarity among Japanese women. This Liaison Group functioned as a pressure group for women's issues and encouraged the signing and ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women by the Japanese government in 1985. …

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