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Japanese activist wins U.S. Woman of Courage Award

44 Comments

A Japanese woman who has been speaking up on behalf of pregnant women and young mothers who are harassed at work has been awarded the U.S. International Woman of Courage Award in Washington.

The award is given by the U.S. State Department to recognize the efforts of women who campaign for women's rights and empowerment. Sayaka Osakabe, 37, is one of 10 recipients this year.

Osakabe was quoted by NHK as saying she is encouraged by the award and that she hopes Japanese people will rethink their way of working.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has talked up the role of women in his push to revive a weak economy, pledging they would occupy 30% of all leadership positions by 2020, but Osakabe and others say the reality for regular female workers is bleak.

"Rather than focusing on a small portion of elite women who are top managers, I'd like them to start by dealing with problems affecting women like us at the bottom," Osakabe said.

When Osakabe returned to work after a second miscarriage, one of the first questions her boss asked was whether she was having sex again. After winning a settlement through a labor tribunal last June, Osakabe began speaking up on behalf of pregnant women and young mothers who are harassed at work. Their plight spawned a new term: "matahara," a shortened form of "maternity harassment".

Osakabe's case has pushed bullying over pregnancy at work into the media spotlight, and coincided with the first-ever hearing on maternity harassment in the country's Supreme Court. The case involved a woman demoted during pregnancy. The plaintiff, who is seeking anonymity for fear of a backlash and trouble at her new job, is suing for about 1.7 million yen in compensation plus costs. The court ruled in her favor in October.

Both moves come as more Japanese women are continuing to work after having children, as a downtrend in wages since the late 1990s has made life harder for single-income families. As of 2010, 46% of working women stayed in their jobs after having their first child, up from 32% in 2001, according to the labor ministry.

At the same time, complaints about harassment and discrimination related to pregnancy and childbirth have risen. In the year to March, the government received 2,085 such complaints from female workers, up 18% from six years ago.

Japan's laws guarantee women the right to seek less physically demanding roles during pregnancy. They also guarantee 14 weeks of maternity leave surrounding childbirth and allow for childcare leave, which can be used by either parent until their child's first birthday and can be extended in some cases.

Yet many women find it difficult to take advantage of those policies in the face of traditional expectations for them to focus on housework and child-rearing, as well as their relatively insecure positions in the workforce.

Lawyers say contract workers often fear their employment will not be renewed if they take maternity or childcare leave. Last year, around 56% of women were hired under part-time or temporary contracts, compared with 21% of men working under such arrangements.

Osakabe was one of those contractors, editing a quarterly newsletter. After a first miscarriage, she asked her boss for help to cut back her work load. She said he told her "to put off pregnancy for 2-3 years and focus on work".

While she was taking bed rest during her second pregnancy, her boss visited her at home and encouraged her to resign, saying her absence "caused trouble". Determined to stay, she returned to work, only to suffer another miscarriage.

In an interview with Reuters, she said it was after her second recovery that the boss asked whether she and her husband were having sex. "My boss told me to come over, and asked if I was menstruating again and if we restarted 'baby-making,'" she said.

She later resigned and took her case to a labor tribunal.

Last July, Osakabe formed a support group called "Matahara net" and called for legislation outlining more support for working women.

© Japan Today/Thomson Reuters

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

44 Comments
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And here's me thinking Japan is a modern society.

9 ( +15 / -6 )

What I want to know is, is he Japanese media covering this?

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Great story. Kudos to this brave woman- Sayaka Osakabe. Its about time somebody is discouraging the subservient roles of Japanese women in this society. Its 2015, not 1900.

7 ( +12 / -5 )

Yes, NHK and other media have covered the story.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's a tough issue, when my wife's company was going through layoffs, there was another woman who was single who could do my wife's job so they chose to lay my wife off because she was a married woman who had a family with a baby at home and could not work more than a few hours of overtime here and there. That really sucked.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

igloobuyerMAR. 07, 2015 - 04:03PM JST What I want to know is, is he Japanese media covering this? ModeratorMAR. 07, 2015 - 04:43PM JST Yes, NHK and other media have covered the story.

Good, it bodes well for the future of women's rights in Japan.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

“Rather than focusing on a small portion of elite women who are top managers, I’d like them to start by dealing with problems affecting women like us at the bottom,” Osakabe said.

Bingo.

The ironic part of the US awarding a woman in Japan seeking fairer treatment for working women, Japan actually has a better much better maternity program. The US is one of two of the 185 countries surveyed by the International Labor Organization that does not mandate paid maternity leave.

http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_242615.pdf

In America, mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (no salary) —but only if they work for a company that has more than 50 employees, yet more than 21 million Americans work for businesses that employ 20 people or fewer. Mongolia and Iran have better programs.

Only five U.S. states provide paid maternity leave: New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, California and Rhode Island.

Yet in Japan you get 14 weeks and 67% pay.

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/22/maternity-leaves-around-the-world_n_1536120.html

In the report by the International Labour Organization, the majority of the United States received a failing grade in providing women and new mothers support entering motherhood.

I hope what Osakabe says wakes up the American government.

6 ( +12 / -6 )

This happens in the U.S., too, worse perhaps because of the lack of any mandatory maternity/childcare leave and the concept of "employment at will." Good to see coverage of the issue in Japan, where women face so many obstacles and indignities in the workplace.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

I've always said, Japanese women have the balls in this society. The men are just whimpy 'yes men'! Good job lady!

8 ( +12 / -4 )

'I've always said, Japanese women have the balls in this society. The men are just whimpy 'yes men'! Good job lady!'

In my experience at work, the vast majority of underlings are wimpy nodding dogs regardless of gender. Good to see a woman prepared to rock the boat. Good work, comrade.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Really Stephen knight im from America and can tell you most companies do offer paid maternity leave just cause it's not a government program doesn't mean it doesn't exist just because convenient stores and fast food joints in America don't offer paid maternity because they are not considered careers there they are generally part time and reserved for high school kids in America or uneducated adults who lack ambition to strive for anything better

-8 ( +2 / -10 )

DisillusionedMAR. 07, 2015 - 05:35PM JST I've always said, Japanese women have the balls in this society. The men are just whimpy 'yes men'! Good job lady!

Hmm, yes and no. There are very strong women in this country but we don't see them standing up for their rights and demanding better rights like there counterparts in Europe and America. Japan ranks 118 in the world ranking of women's rights (political representation, equal pay, career advancement etc.).

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Only five U.S. states provide paid maternity leave: New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, California and Rhode Island.

'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''

i did not know that/ Maternity leave etc are not regulated by State Govt and individual employers do differently I thought. In USA, boss does not mean a man, When enployees have babies, in USA, fellow employees collect money, buy baby colothes etc (blue for boys and pink for girls) etc and show up to her hospital room to congratulate/

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Japanese Government must provide legislative security to the working women in JAPAN against harassment by their employers at the place of work. Women must have full and complete freedom to decide how many children they would like to have in their families and must not be dictated by their employers under any circumstances . Her tenure of service and terms of employment must be legally defined and made fully secure so that she is not thrown out of employment in the event becoming pregnant during service .Prime Minister Abe must remove all such hurdles and make it easier for women to do service with peace , security and dignity in the country.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

These things happen in this country because from an early age people are taught to be submissive based on age gender and whether or not there social status entitles them to have access to the "good life" life America isn't perfect most places are not but women where I come from expect to be treated equally it's not something they have to ask for

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

I could not believe that the Japanese employers treat pregnant women with uncultured behaviour.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

This form of harassment is not confined to Japan it is common in every G20 country. Kudos Sayaka Osakabe for the courage to stand up and be counted. The term 'Activist' is primarily associated to political public protests. Sayaka Osakabe harassment constitutes a criminal offence and should be treated as such. Judicial process is a basic right that in any society should be available to all irrespective of gender. Reading this I had to be physically restrained from taking it out on my Rhapis excelsa (Broadleaf Lady Palm).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The most important issue in all harassment and bad treatment related to parental care.is to remember that, ultimately...it is the children who suffer stress as much as, if not more than their mothers, in these circumstances. If there is even more harassment because of the unmarried status of a mother, and lack of support from its father as is commonly the case in Europe and USA, so that the parent is at the mercy of a hostile society, this may also adversely affect any child's development and the rest of its life, as well as causing the distress for its mother.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Kevin Davis--

im from America and can tell you most companies do offer paid maternity leave

This will likely be deleted for being "off topic," but generally the percentage of American companies offering paid maternity leave hovers somewhere between 12% and 16%. Hardly "most companies."

Japan is one of 168 countries (out of 173) surveyed that does mandate some kind of paid maternity and/or childcare leave. The U.S. is one of five (along with Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland) that do not.

In either country, simply waiting for the "market" to decide the issue, or for companies to do the right thing, is often ineffective (if not outright delusional), and government has to step in.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Both moves come as more Japanese women are continuing to work after having children, as a downtrend in wages since the late 1990s has made life harder for single-income families. As of 2010, 46% of working women stayed in their jobs after having their first child, up from 32% in 2001, according to the labor ministry.

Instead of wasting billions on un-needed defense spending or just giving the money away they could easily set up a fund to support companies that have a hard time paying for maternity leave. Just another reason Japan has a low (and getting lower) birthrate.

Last year, around 56% of women were hired under part-time or temporary contracts, compared with 21% of men working under such arrangements.

It is easier to get these Women to quit their job than it is to pay the maternity. ==> Once it is easier to pay for the maternity than it is to quit the job then the battle has been won here. It really is a question of financial priority.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Great work by Sayaka Osakabe. People who have gone through or witnessed similar behaviour that she was subjected to need to come forward & support her.

This kind of discrimination against women who are pregnant, wish to get pregnant, or are raising kids is not just a Japanese thing. It's almost as if employers think that a woman doing any of these things is the equivalent of being blasted by the "Men in Black memory eraser" & makes them forget all their education/training before & during their time on the job. News flash employers - they don't become useless just because they've had a baby.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Corporate Japan needs to recognize the potential of their female workforce. Japan needs more Takako Doi & Sayaka Osakabe. After all, Japanese women are very educated as much (if not more) as the rest of modern nations today. Why eliminate their potential as soon ad they say, "I do" & give birth? It makes no friggn' sense.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Good on this woman. I hope more and more women and men alike take up the torch and start helping this society progress forward. She deserves the award, and the former boss who asked her such questions deserves a kick in the teeth. What's more, she's absolutely right that the government needs to step up and LIVE up to its promise to make things better for women not just by a few token choices at the top, but by starting at the bottom. Not only are Abe and co NOT doing that, but they had the lowest number of female representatives in the LDP ever on top of failing to make things better at the bottom! Not even their lip-service is working!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

U.S. International Woman of Courage Award did not forget Japanese women. Extremely brave to speak up in Japan as a woman. Congratulation Osakabe san. .

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Osakabe-san good on you!!

Japan is SO damned primitive at times, actually a LOT of the time! And then we see all these stupid oyaji politicians on TV wondering why the population is decreasing & what to do.

It isn't rocket science, Japan is in DIRE need to a major re-vamp of so many aspects of life in order to re-start this country, but sadly Japan hasn't fallen enough yet for this to get on the radar.

Basically Japan is in dire need of a NEW restoration. Work life balance is in real need of a MASSIVE overhaul!

Japanese guys are lucky Japan is made up of islands other wise most of the women would likely just WALK AWAY from this country!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

JT should feature an open forum topic: "Does Japan need to re-examine womanly roles in today's society?

Right GW. It isn't rocket science. Look @ how powerful, happy, more free, more finacially successful, content & confident women are in western culture.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Same here.... I have tons of respect for Japanese women... and not very much for the men overall. I don't think its a case of men continually trying to maintain control in Japan.... it really just manifests itself because when it actually comes to culture.... Japan changes very slowly. Japan cannot help itself.... they're proud that they've been able to adapt and modernize for the last 150 years without culturally changing much.... but at some point the culture needs to change from its male dominated ways.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japanese guys are lucky Japan is made up of islands other wise most of the women would likely just WALK AWAY from this country!

A lot do already.

0 ( +3 / -4 )

The ironic part of the US awarding a woman in Japan seeking fairer treatment for working women, Japan actually has a better much better maternity program. The U.S. is one of two of the 185 countries surveyed by the International Labor Organization that does not mandate paid maternity leave.

Huh? Where does this article even mention maternity leave? Granted, the U.S. maternity policy is woefully weak in comparisons to most countries, but that is only one aspect of the overall treatment of pregnant women that this woman is addressing in Japan.

When Osakabe returned to work after a second miscarriage, one of the first questions her boss asked was whether she was having sex again. After winning a settlement through a labor tribunal last June, Osakabe began speaking up on behalf of pregnant women and young mothers who are harassed at work. Their plight spawned a new term: “matahara,” a shortened form of “maternity harassment”.

But, as usual, the Japan apologists want to divert attention from the real topic by engaging in U.S. bashing, knowing full well that while the maternity laws in Japan may be superior to the U.S., they all know that the actual treatment of pregnant women -- actually women in general -- is far superior in almost any industrialized country than it is in Japan. Otherwise, this woman would not have to be campaigning against, and winning awards for, fighting that harrassment. Because we all know that while harrassment laws may be on the books in Japan, they are rarely enforced, and have almost no real punishment. Plus, in case you missed the related article, Japan is below even China in the percentage of women managers, so there is no empathy among managers for pregnant workers, as would be the case in the U.S.. Which, again, the article points out.:

While she was taking bed rest during her second pregnancy, her boss visited her at home and encouraged her to resign, saying her absence “caused trouble”. Determined to stay, she returned to work, only to suffer another miscarriage.

In an interview with Reuters, she said it was after her second recovery that the boss asked whether she and her husband were having sex. “My boss told me to come over, and asked if I was menstruating again and if we restarted ‘baby-making,’” she said

Why don't you folks who love Japan so much use your energies to make it better -- first-world actually -- by attacking the real issue -- sexual harrassment -- rather than throwing in red herrings simply to pretend it doesn't exist? My God, her boss came to her house, while she was "taking rest during her second pregnancy" and "encouraged" her to resign. If that happened in America, that story would be all over the news, because she would sue the company's butt off, and the boss and the company would be toast. But, in Japan, even though there is a great maternity law, that kind of crap still happens. As usual, this issue comes down to Japanese appearances versus reality.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Word igloobuyer!! Japanese women who go to the states usually end up staying there, wheather they stay married to their American hubbies or not. . . . At least there or in any western country they have some RIGHTS, SPINE & IDENTITY.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@Wc626: Women who came to USA with Japanese Govt Scholorship had to sign that they will never marry after they went back to Japan/ The famous person was Dr. Kono Yasui who never married and contributed to Japanese Science field but that rule was still there when I came tto USA I felt sorry for them but what could they do? So, not all Japanese girls forgoot to returned to Japan. BTW, in USA, if a boss insult a woman employee like this boss, his boss will get rid of him to save expense cost.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Dave DoyleMar ## And here's me thinking Japan is a modern society.

Australia’s largest radio company Southern Cross Austereo Boss said we provide condoms to stop women staffs having babies.

Before you criticized Japanese Company, you should read this news first. That women employee’s pregnancy and return to work problem is not just in Japan and all other developed Countries have that problem too. It was depending on Company and some Governments have pressured Companies to change their treatment toward pregnant woman employees. http://mumbrella.com.au/condoms-southern-cross-linda-wayman-babies-bullshit-work-life-279416

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Finally, modern Japanese taking old 1950's Japan into the 21st century, kicking and screaming. 14 weeks maternity isn't much. Canada has 52 and other countries as well are even more. The irony is that the "bosses" out there would get a fully working temporary contract worker to cover the maternity leave, while the mother/father are guaranteed under maternity leave law to not lose their jobs. It works. Try it; use ca.indeed.com or another site and search for "maternity leave". Lots of 1 year contract jobs. That's how it works here but I'm sure others have upped the scale. I know France has a nurse that takes care of the family which is pretty cool. How about in your country? Maybe Japan could implement a best-of-world-practices on maternity leave and stop bullying their own mothers.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

In an interview with Reuters, she said it was after her second recovery that the boss asked whether she and her husband were having sex. “My boss told me to come over, and asked if I was menstruating again and if we restarted ‘baby-making,’”

Glad she won.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

She refuses to disclose the name of the company and the people, apparently. Sorry, folks, that ain't true "activism."

If we know who the perpetrators are, we can punish them by boycotting their goods and services. But she is allowing them to hide behind secrecy, and so the problem ain't gonna go away....and she can't be considered a real activist.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

€Osakabe was one of those contractors, editing a quarterly newsletter. After a first miscarriage, she asked her boss for help to cut back her work load. She said he told her “to put off pregnancy for 2-3 years and focus on work”.

She can not disclose the name pf the organization and the name of person now She won in court. This kind of lawsuit, plaintiffs are usually instructed not to release defendents' name. Otherwise, defendents will sue plaintiff as defamation, etc. Judges usually instruct before he/she declare Court Adjourned. Judges have to make sure defendents will not be attacked by busybodies even pistol shooting is rare in Japan, Often, defendents and plaintiffs, along with their attorneys are surmonded into the judges chamber and instructed not to disclose so and so so. etc.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

First of all, congratulations to Ms. Osakabe. Dispite having such an offensive boss, her action was couragious and cool-headed. Second, this "matahara" issue is about stable vs. unstable. Companies want people who can provide stable workforce, and women who are trying to have a baby, or who just gave a birth to a baby are not very reliable in general. Therefore, companies should change the employment of women who are planning to have a baby in less than a year, from full time worker to part time worker. In order to make this happen, women need to be honest. I can imagine this is very difficult, but we all need to understand each other more, and cooperate so that everyone can do what they want/have to do.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Australia’s largest radio company Southern Cross Austereo Boss said we provide condoms to stop women staffs having babies

chop chop,

I did a quick search on that & your right! BUT BUT BUT! What you failed to mention was there is a LOT of rebuttal & discussion going on in Oz because of the issue at Sothern Cross.

Meanwhile in Japan as USUAL the SILENCE is deafening!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Now all Japanese national weeklies are very busy to scoop details.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Whilst the media reports harassment on japAnese women Harassment at work , it doesn't go vice versa, where japanese women harass their foreign counterparts at work Or Utagawa , whilst joining force and collaboration with friends and relatives working together ,, and the malice goes as far at the place where the victim lives , shops ... Everywhere , though the media is aware of that including police keep a blind eye so that outsiders don't see the other side of our friends

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Pratibha Ota: This is U.S. Woman of Courage Award not US Man of Courage Award. .

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Excuse me, but I dont see the problem. Im not japanese but for me its natural. As simple as if in concordance with your cultural values, you understand that women must take their own rol for the benefit of all, and you are concern with productivity, you will act in consecuence. And yes, I think feminism is a bad adviser.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@azukaya: It may be your culture to be pregnant and your male boss nose your sex life, but not Japanese culture. As Japanese married women did not work like now. Find books about Japan and write about Japanese old custom such as Kakaa tenka.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@toshiko: I dont know how have been the culture in Japan along the time, neither now. But I have clear that gender roles are important because many reasons. Two of these reasons are that gender roles make men and women become the complement of each other, and that gender roles help to minimize the frictions between men and women due to each of them live in their own world. I think women always have had their sphere of power inside their world, because they have been the ones that stay home, and decide and solve the problems there. Besides I think usually men havent been very interested in rule over things that not belong their own world; I ve seen that men usually have no problem in let women decide about things that anyway have to do much more with women than men. My main point is that I think that traditional roles have worked better for the family that the new trends.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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