Working mothers in Japan: The more things change, the more they stay the same

By Louise George Kittaka

Like many other women, the recent news about Tokyo Medical University’s discriminatory practice of limiting the number of successful female applicants made me furious. Using the excuse that female doctors “tend to take long absences or quit after marrying or giving birth,” since 2010, university officials in charge of entrance exams have been covertly cutting scores to artificially limit women to around 30 percent of those admitted each year.

This news hit very close to home for two reasons: Firstly, I know the associated Tokyo University Hospital well, as my husband spent a month there last autumn for a major surgery. I remember seeing groups of young medical residents walking around and, at the time, noting that only about one in three or four was a female. Secondly, my older daughter is in her third year of medical school in New Zealand.

This kind of practice has repercussions all through the system. Fewer female medical students translates to fewer women advancing to management roles within a hospital or medical university. If female doctors tend to take extended leaves of absences or quit after marriage and giving birth, then it means — nothing more, nothing less — that the system itself is flawed. And forging women’s test results won’t solve anything. 

A vicious cycle

This is just one example—albeit, a particularly distasteful one—of how working women, and working mothers, in particular, can’t seem to catch a break. Everyone knows that Japan’s birth rate is dropping while the population is aging rapidly, meaning that there are fewer young working people to support the elderly. To this end, the Japanese government wants women to work more and have more children, but it lacks any concrete plans of how to create an infrastructure and work culture that encourages both these trends.

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This is a really good article. Well worth clicking to read in full.

It pains me to say it, but the situation could change if Japanese women demanded it, as women have done in other countries. Women are half of the electorate and could elect more women or force every politician who is elected to act in women's interests. It doesn't happen because a significant number of women, my guess would be about 1/3, do not want change.

It is also women who ensure that PTAs continue to operate in work-unfriendly ways. I don't see any man at the top saying they must have meetings at 2pm on a Tuesday. While it is every family/woman's choice whether to stay at home, such women should not unilaterally have the right to organize society, here meaning schools, neighbourhoods, and other child activities, in a manner that hurts women with work commitments. That is the current stay of play in Japan. Stay at home mothers hold back ambitious working mothers, possibly as much as any glass ceiling.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Spot on article.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Govt urge to woman get married and give birth,

other hand if you get married and give birth, you are loosing opportunities.

How funny?

So, what to do dear Govt.????

1 ( +1 / -0 )

the problem is that women here lack the strength of will and confidence to action any sort of change to their situation. Only they can change things themselves. Complaining gets you nowhere

0 ( +2 / -2 )

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