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4 Women’s Rights Organizations You Can Support in Japan

Contrary to popular belief, feminism in Japan is alive, and there are ways that foreigners can contribute to it. Here are four organizations to get you started.

By 5 min read 5

When you live in Japan, starry-eyed visions of cherry blossoms and anime settings gradually give way to the real joys and frustrations of living in a real country. Over time, I heard one problem in particular brought up again and again by friends who otherwise loved Japan: the poor state of women’s rights.

In 2016, Japan dropped even further in the gender equality rankings maintained by the World Economic Forum. It places 111th out of 144 countries, making it the lowest ranked industrialized country, and below neighboring South Korea and China. And the tangible reasons behind this abstract number are pretty easy to grasp: there are few women in positions of power in politics or business; sexual harassment is more often than not swept under the rug; and still-rigid gender roles pressure women to become stay-at-home wives and mothers. Even when it seems as though progress is being made, Japan appears to be dragging its heels.

Full-time female workers in Japan on average still earn about 30 percent less than males, according to government data. The pay gap is the third widest among members of the OECD. (Bloomberg)

What makes Japan’s gender inequality doubly frustrating is that there seems to be nothing foreign residents here can do about it. While in many of our own countries, one might get involved with protests or advocacy, Japan has a different culture with its own complicated system of social relations. For all our good intentions, and while international communication does play an important role, foreigners can’t be the ones to impose western (or another culture’s) feminism on Japanese culture. Change has to come from within.

That’s exactly what makes it so important to support grassroots Japanese organizations fighting for gender equality. Contrary to popular belief, feminism in Japan is alive, and there are ways that foreigners can contribute to it. The resilient organizations listed here are just four of many that anyone can support by donating, volunteering, or becoming a member. All the sites provide at least some information in English.

1. Women’s Action Network

The WAN is a non-profit that aims to support women in a wide-ranging array of activities across Japan. The organization hosts lectures and events, and disseminates up-to-date news about women’s rights issues in Japan and internationally. Led by the influential feminist scholar Chizuko Ueno, the WAN has an academic slant, as they maintain a historical archive of feminist magazines and offer free video recordings of feminist lectures. That being said, the group also posts about films, art exhibitions, and even manga and anime related to women’s rights. It’s a great source to stay informed on all issues related to feminism in Japan.

If you want to get involved, their website posts about events and calls to rallies across the country. You can also become a member, which will net you a newsletter subscription, free attendance to events, plus voting rights in the general assembly.

2. National Women’s Education Center

The brick and mortar NWEC is located in Saitama, where anyone can utilize their well-stocked library specializing in gender equality, women’s rights, and family issues. The group holds training sessions for everyone from high school girls to company managers, to counselors who work with women.

If you can’t make it to the physical location, the NWEC website is also an excellent place to do research, especially for those with little Japanese ability. It features a list in English of local and university-specific organizations related to women’s rights, so you can find the right non-profit to get involved with if you live in Japan. You can also volunteer for the NWEC itself – they host orientation seminars three times a year.

3. Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Centre

Japan-based but very internationally-minded, the AJWRC fights to end violence and discrimination against women around the world. It’s roots lie in a group of Japanese women’s protest against sex tours made to other Asian countries by Japanese men. Nowadays it aims to educate and campaign about feminist issues as they intersect with war, trafficking, neoliberal globalization, and so on.

The AJWRC publishes a biannual English journal called “Voices from Japan”. At the time of writing, the most recent issue contains articles about asylum-seeking refugee women, government policies as they relate to women, and testimonies of “comfort women” survivors from WWII. Other than subscribing to the journal, you can support the organization by becoming a member, making a donation, or volunteering as a proofreader or translator.

4. Working Women’s Network

In a country where women continue to face huge challenges in building a career, the WWN fights to close the gender gap in working conditions. The WWN’s goals are to eliminate gender-based discrimination in hiring and job evaluation, establish equal pay, and combat sexual harassment in the workplace. The WWN has supported various legal cases related to gender discrimination and sexual harassment, including the high-profile case of Rina Bovrisse. Bovrisse’s lawsuit against Prada Japan eventually reached the United Nations, and resulted in a UN statement calling for the Japanese government to introduce new regulations making sexual harassment illegal.

The WWN conducts research on the status of working women, and submits reports to CEDAW, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as the Japanese government. These reports can be read on their website. Anyone who wishes to support the WWN’s activities can become a member or send a donation.

What do you think about women’s rights in Japan? Do you have any advice or tips on ways to support gender equality here? Know of any organizations? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

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  • midoann says:

    THANK YOU for the article and thank you very much to these big heart organizations. It’s up to you to fight your battles without the help of these experience organizations if you think ‘it will demean you’. According to each case, for example, you don’t need to say you are being supported by these women rights groups when claiming for your rights in a company. But if there is something that distinguishes human being from all evolution is awareness with compassion, solidarity, empathy. Japan is a machista country domain too by the high class, what they want most of all from Japanese women is to be isolated, divided and not organized.

  • midoann says:

    Thank you very much for this important information. These Japanese women organizations are doing a great job informing, educating, inviting new members to join to learn from their experience and ideas and above all fighting for their rights. It’s a fact that many Japanese women fight their battles alone at work and/or at home ( as well at schools, neighborhood, and so on) but most for lot of reasons fail in their efforts to get a fair payment and respect. In a machista country domain by the high class is not easy for women to liberate themselves from thousands of unfair laws and customs. We can do both at the same time: guided by these organizations fight out battles and help other women suffering harassment, bullying, domestic violence, women in extreme poverty like single mothers or elderly women. I am a psychologist and currently my patients are foreigners, and is devasting too how these Japanese descendants women work so hard at work and at home and are paid so little and not valued as gold. Oh! How I admire them.

  • Dale Goodwin says:

    I firmly believe that women are superior to men in every way in a business setting and should not demean themselves by associating themselves with liberal organizations that will only portray them in a negative light in the eyes of their employers. I worked in an office that was 95% women for close to 20 years and I could see two basic patterns: the “transients” (those working only to get money to play with or a husband) and the “future managers” (these women took leadership positions and surrounded them with other women that respected them and supported their positions). Regardless of whether or not they were in senior management, it was the later group that proved to be critical to the company organization.

    • garypen says:

      Viewing women’s rights as a “liberal” cause is one of the problems.

    • scuttlepants says:

      As a feminist, I don’t think we can say one gender is superior to another. We should be judged on our individual merits and skills.



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