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Sexual Harassment in Japan


Well, not exactly you, at least I hope not. Anyway, the Chika Shinohara and Christopher Uggen article in The Asia-Pacific Journal, “Sexual Harassment: The Emergence of Legal Consciousness in Japan and the U.S.,” takes a look at the rise of EEO complaints in an area typically overlooked by Japan, Incorporated…sexual hararssment in the workplace.

It is a well-known fact for decades, Japanese society accepted sexual harassment as part of a normal workplace environment. This is not unusual in Japan, where women still play subservient roles in the workplace and men openly read pornographic manga on the subways or at coffee shops. Although Japan’s social beliefs of gender stereotypes and discrimination are slowly changing, Japan’s Equal Employment Opportunity Law needs to grow fangs if it plans on rectifying the situation. Here is some background on the law and guidelines.

Growing Sekuhara Claims

In 2008, 8,140 women working in Japan brought sexual harassment or sekuharaclaims to prefectural equal employment opportunity (EEO) offices. This represents 64% of the 12,782 EEO related reports that women made to regional governments – a large increase since 2005. Sekuhara in fact is the largest discrimination concern reported to EEO offices among employed women in Japan today. These numbers do not simply reflect difficult employment conditions women face, but also provide evidence of growing legal consciousness among working women in response to broader legal and social change. How does suchsekuhara consciousness emerge?

Ripe for the Development of Sekuhara Consciousness

Our study shows broad similarities in sexual harassment consciousness across working women in Japan and the US, with some notable differences in the rates occurring for different age groups. We compare data from Japan and the US where the employment and life course contexts differ greatly for employed women. Japan, compared to the US, delineates more rigid gender stratification and work-family expectations. Yet, both societies now have laws regulating work harassment. Sex discrimination at work was symbolically banned earlier in both societies. And then, their legal guidelines included specific definitions of “hostile work sexual harassment” and “quid pro quo sexual harassment” in later years. We argue that real and symbolic statements marking sex discrimination as illegal, including the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) of 1985, created conditions ripe for the development ofsekuhara consciousness.

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