The July 21 election revealed an exciting trend in Japanese politics—28 women were elected to the upper house of Parliament, tying the record set in 2016. Though women now only make up 23 percent of seats, this is the highest number of female political representation in Japan’s history.
With a surge of women entering Japanese parliament, the game could very well change when it comes to who the law benefits in Japan. Historically, laws have favored men—they were the first to vote, they once had full control over their spouses, and continue to make more money than the opposite sex today.
Yet, the playing field will likely be leveled with time. Though the state of women’s rights in Japan is often under scrutiny, the nation has made strides in recent years to better the lives of women, hinting that things are only going to get better.
Let’s look at 10 Japanese laws already in place that are benefiting women in Japan.
1. The right to divorce in 1896
We know that marriage contracts—though legally binding until at least one of the participating parties perishes—were made to be broken.
Yet, the epidemic of divorce is a relatively new phenomenon, especially for women.
Article 728 of Japan’s Civil Code (also known as Act No. 89 of 1896) granted women the right to separate from their spouses. Matrimony has existed in some form in Japan for centuries, yet only about 100 years ago did half the equation have the power to end it. Imagine having no way out of an abusive or dead-end marriage!
The Civil Code further prohibited nuptials between close and adopted relatives and required minors to receive consent from their parents to wed.
The Act also included this sentence: “A woman may not remarry unless six months have passed since the day of dissolution or rescission of her previous marriage.” This was to avoid confusion regarding paternity should a recently divorced woman end up pregnant. It wasn’t until a 2013 amendment that this period was shortened to 100 days. Presumably, because paternity tests are a thing now.
2. The right to vote in 1947
The end of World War II and subsequent US occupation introduced numerous changes in Japanese society and politics, including a brand new constitution.
Put into effect in 1947, one of the most groundbreaking new additions gave women the long-awaited and fought-for right to vote. The following year saw a surge in women-occupied political positions, a trend that has continued—albeit slowly.
Convincing people of all genders to vote remains a struggle and women still make up less than a third of Parliament. Yet, strides continue to be made. In 2018, a non-binding act, called the Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field, was passed requiring political parties to encourage an equal number of men and women to run for office. While it’s a shame such an act is needed, it’s something, dammit!
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