Japanese women fight for jobs


By Eva Cheng Both rural and urban women in Japan are fighting for the right to work as the five-year-old recession and the "trade liberalisation" agenda under GATT and APEC hit them increasingly hard. Though official unemployment remained around 3% last year, the International Monetary Fund estimates that the actual figure may be as high as 12%. Rengo, Japan's largest trade union federation, reported that urban women's jobs were increasingly casualised or eliminated under Japanese business's drive in the last decade to shift production lines overseas to take advantage of cheaper labour. Of the 3.6 million new jobs made available to women between 1988 and 1994, 70% were temporary. Job casualisation was most severe in the service sector, which, as a norm, deprives workers of important benefits such as health and unemployment insurance. The 40th Working Women's Central Conference, held in Tokyo in November to discuss implementation of the action program adopted by the UN Women's Conference in Beijing, was told that women's plight has worsened on many counts since Japan's Equal Employment Opportunity Law was enacted 10 years ago. Women's pay in 1993 was only 50.9% that of men's, down from 56.2% in 1978. Under the pretext of "equal opportunities", the conference was told, more women were forced to undertake night duties or long shifts. Discrimination against women in hiring also increased. About half of women graduates fail to find a job, official statistics have revealed. Many women graduates reported being denied even a job interview. Rural women's plight has significantly worsened too under the impact of market-opening measures of GATT, according to the 2 million-strong Japan Agricultural Women's Association. The association pointed out that dwindling farm income of recent years has become even more unstable as government subsidies dried up and long-standing protection against competition from foreign rice was removed in 1993. More rural men, especially the young, seek jobs in the cities, leaving women behind to shoulder cultivation, often on top of part-time employment in rural industries and household duties. Japan's rural population was halved over the last 10 years to 3.38 million, composed predominantly of women between 50 and 70 years old.