The Struggle of Working Women in Japan
By Yumi Nakata
Japan has one of the highest gender inequality rates in the world. The Swiss-based nonprofit World Economic Forum recently released its Gender Gap Report which ranked Japan 104 out of 136 countries and despite the attempts by the Japanese government to improve the opportunities for women, many still “retire” from their jobs upon marriage, and most of them quit after giving birth.
This is the story of my friend, who despite Mr. Abe’s effort, is faced with the reality of working in Japan. She is in her mid 30s and is a so called “Office Lady”. She works for a small company as an administrative coordinator and struggles to find a job that is not a contract or temporary position. The fact that she is a woman in her 30s, makes it unlikely that she will be able to find a job as a full time employee.
In Japan many women are forced to choose between marriage or a career.
Like her, many Japanese women (and men) are facing similar conditions due to the rigid employment system in Japan. Japanese companies traditionally practice so called “life-time employment” but this system is not longer actively practiced as the Japanese economy has stagnated.
Today, if you have built sufficient skills employees may be able to find another position but the competition is stiff and many Japanese workers end up registering for temporary agencies that place them to long-term contracting positions.
My friend found an administrative job in a construction firm right after she had graduated from college. She has a degree in literature so she has been working in an office environment. The trouble started when she left her last job to get married. Unfortunately her wedding was cancelled and she was shocked to find out that her previous company wouldn’t rehire her. She started to go through classified ads for jobs but started to realize that it was nearly impossible for her to find a similar career job in office environment.
The struggle she faced is an all too common one for many Japanese women. She is in her 30s, which in the mindset of many traditional Japanese means that she should be taking care of a family instead of looking for work. Ironically being single also hurts her chances as many companies view this as a risk that she might leave the company after marriage or childbirth.
However, she was able to find jobs through temporary agencies that gives her either a short or a long term assignment but without any benefits. This really explains why many Japanese women are forced to choose between family and career as it is extremely difficult to get back into the workforce.
Even if they are able to start working again, the sever lack of daycare and long office hours make it extremely challenging for a new mother to maintain a work life balance.
I welcome your feedback on this issue…what could Japanese government do to help women in Japan?