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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women examines reports of Japan

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women today considered the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Japan on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. 

Presenting the reports, Shinsuke Sugiyama, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that the Basic Act for Gender Equal Society ensured that women did not receive any discriminatory treatment and prevented gender stereotyping.  The Fourth Basic Plan for Gender Equality set the basic direction of governmental policies and specific measures on labour, women’s empowerment and violence against women.  After highlighting efforts made by Japan to promote gender equality and women’s rights at the international level, he addressed the issue of comfort women, which had been the subject of a recent agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea, resolving the matter finally and irreversibly. 

During the ensuing dialogue, Experts expressed their concern about the overall lack of progress and implementation of previous Committee recommendations made to Japan.  They were particularly concerned about the absence of clear legal definition and prohibition of discrimination against women.  Japan suffered from patriarchy, they said, unfair hierarchy and exclusion of women.  Women were under-represented in the political life and the private sector.  Experts also expressed concerns about the discrimination in terms of access to basic services, particularly for women with disabilities, indigenous women and lesbian and bisexual women.  Experts also raised the issue of comfort women, urging Japan to provide reparation to the victims. 

In concluding remarks, Shinsuke Sugiyama said that the Japanese delegation had made utmost efforts to respond to all the questions put forward by the Experts.  He then referred to the recently announced death of former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and expressed his condolences to his friends and relatives.   

Naela Gabr, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, in her concluding remarks, encouraged Japan to give due attention to the recommendations of the Committee.  She also referred to the death of for Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and paid tribute to his commitments in favour of peace and women’s rights.   

The delegation of Japan included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology, the Cabinet Office, the National Police Agency, as well as the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public tomorrow, 17 February at 10 a.m. to consider the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Iceland (CEDAW/C/ISL/7‑8).

Reports

The combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Japan can be read at: CEDAW/C/JPN/7-8.


Presentation of the Reports

SHINSUKE SUGIYAMA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that for 30 years since its ratification in 1985, Japan had deemed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as one of the mainstays to implement measures for gender equality in the fields of employment, education and eradication of violence.  The Basic Act for Gender Equal Society, enacted in 1999, laid out basic principles and clarified the responsibilities of the national and local governments with regard to the formation of a gender-equal society, while ensuring that women did not receive any discriminatory treatment and preventing gender stereotyping.

The Fourth Basic Plan for Gender Equality, formulated in December 2015 after consultations with civil society organizations, set the basic direction of governmental policies and specific measures to be adopted to foster gender equality in a comprehensive and planned manner.  That plan focused on labour reforms, fostered women’s recruitment and empowerment, support to women faced with difficult situations, and enhanced measures to combat violence against women.  Positive actions had been implemented to empower women, leading to increased employment rates for women and increased percentage of women in managerial positions in both the public and private sectors.  The Fourth Basic Plan set out ambitious targets in that regard. 

Child care leave benefit system ensured 80 percent of net income to both fathers and mothers during the leave period of up to six months, which would encourage men to engage more in childcare and household work.  Further, child care facilities would be increased to accept an additional 500,000 children.  Additional measures had been taken to ensure that the labour market was more compatible with the duties of care-givers.  The Act for the Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace had been enacted in August 2015, mandating national and local governments, as well as large companies, to identify and analyse their situation, formulate action plans and publicly disclose information regarding the recruitment of women.  Measures to empower women would be accelerated in terms of both human and financial resources. 

After highlighting the efforts made by Japan to promote gender equality and women’s rights at the international level, including through active and financial support to the United Nations Entity for Women, Mr. Sugiyama turned to the issue of comfort women, which had been the subject of a recent agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea, with the Governments of both countries confirming that the matter was resolved finally and irreversibly.  The Deputy Minister underlined that the dignity and honour of many women had been severely injured during wars in the twentieth century, and assured that Japan would lead the world in making the twenty-first century an era in which women’s rights were not infringed upon.  Furthermore, since the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women did not apply retrospectively, it was not appropriate for the report to take up the comfort women issue in terms of the implementation of State party’s duties regarding the Convention. 

Questions by Experts

XIAOQIAO ZOU, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Japan, while acknowledging the progress achieved by Japan since the last consideration in 2009, regretted that follow-up implementation of the Committee’s recommendations was insufficient.  First, it was regrettable that no action had been taken to incorporate the Convention and the definition of discrimination against women fully into Japan’s domestic legislation, which impeded the implementation of the Convention in the State.  The Committee also regretted that discriminatory legal provisions remained, including within the Civil Code, Imperial Household Law, and the Anti-Prostitution Law. 

Other Committee Members expressed serious concerns that no progress had been made on some serious issues since 2009.  Especially, the internal status of the Convention was a matter of concern, one Expert said.  There was no reference to the Convention by courts, and its provisions were not directly applicable.  The visibility of the Convention had not improved either.  How would Japan effectively strengthen the knowledge of law-enforcement officials of the provisions of the Convention?

Japan should ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, to which more than a hundred of United Nations Member States had adhered. 

The Committee was generally concerned about the attitude towards human rights in Japan, as illustrated by the failed attempt to establish a national human rights institution in 2010.  An Expert commended the adoption of a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security for the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325, but regretted that sexual violence by foreign military was not addressed by that plan. 

A Committee Expert noted that a number of discriminatory pieces of legislations were still in place, despite previous concerns expressed by the Committee, including in relation to divorce, minimum age for marriage, and the lack of protection from discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

In practice, more than 90 percent of the women were socially obliged to take their husbands’ names, which was a violation of the Convention.  The legislation had to be consistent with Japan’s international obligations.  What proactive steps were taken to repeal or amend all these laws?  It was unacceptable that Japan had said in its report that citizens’ consensus was necessary to amend the Civil Code. 

Replies by the Delegation

With regard to the definition of discrimination, a delegate noted that the Constitution prohibited discrimination based on sex and that international treaties promulgated by Japan were domestically applicable.  Specifically, there should be no discrimination based on sex, and men and women should enjoy the same career opportunities.  In 1999, the Basic Act for Gender-Equal Society had been enacted, taking the Convention into consideration and an explicit reference to it in the Basic Plan. 

While the Anti-Prostitution Act did not criminalize prostitution itself, public solicitation and harassment were prohibited.  That text was not discriminatory in so far as it concerned both men and women engaging into prostitution.

Public opinion was very divided regarding the reform of the Civil Code.  The ban on remarriage within 180 days after a divorce would be amended in order to reduce that period.  The issue of illegitimate children was the result of the great attachment to marriage in the Japanese society.  Any reform of the Civil Code had to be done with the support of a large majority of public opinion.

Appropriate consideration as to what the human rights remedy system ought to be was underway, with a review of various discussions made so far.  The delegation was not in a position to provide further information on that issue. 

Training of judges included human rights-related modules.  A special group had been created to better sensitize the judiciary to sexual offenses.  Training was also provided on international human rights standards, including on the provisions of the Convention, at several stages of the career of judges.  The delegation felt that the training was sufficient in this field, noting that human rights education, including education relating to violence against women, was provided to newly appointed or promoted police officers. 

In September 2015, Japan had created a national plan on women, peace and security for the implementation of resolution 1325, which had its implementation measured through about 150 indicators.  Violence by foreign military forces in Japan was already covered by bilateral agreements between Japan and the United States.  Japan was committed to contributing to international initiatives on that issue, including financially. 

The Basic Act for Gender-Equal Society enshrined the principle of equal opportunities.  Japan was committed to the economic empowerment of women. 


Follow-up Questions by Experts

Experts reiterated their concerns regarding the absence of definition of discrimination against women within the Constitution or legislation, contrary to Article 1 of the Convention.  Were measures taken to address discrimination against sexual minorities?

An Expert was still concerned about the delegation’s answer on the need for public opinion to be unified before amending the Civil Code.  She then asked for more examples of legislation explicitly addressing discrimination in specific areas.  Another Expert pointed at the necessity for the Government not to wait for public opinion to change, but rather to take the lead to combat discrimination against women. 

What was the legal and financial framework for the prohibition of discrimination against women with disabilities?  How was their right to substantive equality, including in the field of economic and social rights, protected? 

An Expert reiterated the question whether Japan would accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention. 

Replies by the Delegation

As indicated before, the people of Japan, as well as the legislators, were divided as regards revisions of the Civil Code. 

The possibility of ratifying the Optional Protocol was being discussed at Government level. 

The delegation informed that employment measures had been taken to strengthen the participation of women, including women with disabilities.  Employers had to employ people with disabilities to a certain percentage.  Unemployed women with disabilities received support from the Government to help them find a job.  Pensions were available for persons with serious disabilities. 

Minister of State for Gender Equality was responsible for the implementation of relevant policies, the delegation said.  The employment of women was one of the major pillars of government policy in that regard.  Information for reference had been given to political parties in terms of women's participation, asking them to consider quotas.  Business leaders would be soon required to make action plan to empower and were also aware of the need to promote women.   In the future it was planned to create incentives.   

Questions by Experts

A Committee Member welcomed efforts by Japan to encourage the participation of women in leadership positions.   It was  of concern, however, that those encouragements were not legally binding.  Measures had not been efficient, as the percentage of women participating in the public life was still low compared to other countries.  In the absence of a clear, concrete policy with clear sanctions, measures would not achieve their intended goals and gender gaps would remain. 

An Expert expressed concerns regarding the persistence of negative gender stereotypes.  Women continued to be depicted as sexual objects.  Adult pornography was generally unregulated, and did not efficiently prevent child pornography.   School textbooks also seemed to contain such negative stereotypes. 

Violence against women remained a serious problem, including for adolescents, women with disabilities, indigenous women and lesbian, bisexual women and transgender persons.  Cases of violence were being under-reported, noted the Expert. 
Another Expert regretted that sexual crimes against children under 13 were treated the same way as general rape.  The penalty was surprisingly the same: only three years.  The law did not address sexual crimes by family members.  Another deficiency was the lack of explicit criminalization of marital rape, with a de facto impunity for such rapists.  It took too long to issue protection orders in cases of domestic violence.

An Expert regretted that Japan suffered from patriarchy, unfair hierarchy and exclusion of women and foreigners.  Women and girls were excluded because of their supposed inferiority.  Those were social dynamics that were changeable. 

Moving to the issue of trafficking in women and sexual exploitation, an Expert noted that Japan was a source and a destination country for exploitation for the sake of prostitution.  Japan did not protect the victims and there were no protection shelters.   What measures would Japan take to provide special care to victims, to prosecute and punish perpetrators, and to reduce the demand for prostitution?

Turning to the issue of comfort women, an Expert noted that human rights violations were considered to occur until the victims had received satisfaction.  Could the delegation explain the legal status of the agreement with the Republic of Korea, and how it would be implemented?  What steps would be taken to properly investigate the role of the Japanese military?  What steps would be taken to acknowledge, apologize and provide reparation to the victims, including foreign victims? 

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions regarding comfort women, the delegation repeated that by the agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea, the two Governments confirmed that the issue of comfort women was finally and irreversibly resolved. A full-scale fact-finding study had been conducted by the Government of Japan in the early 1990s. However, “forceful taking away” of comfort women by the military and government authorities could not be confirmed in any of the documents that the Government of Japan was able to identify in that study.

Furthermore, the figure of 200,000 persons as the number of comfort women also lacked concrete evidence. Women who had been requisitioned as labor force on the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, sometimes on a voluntary basis, had been confused with cases of comfort women, and the expression “sex-slaves” contradicted the facts. The delegation also explained that the Government of Japan had been sincerely dealing with that issue through the Asian Women’s Fund, while, in accordance with the San Francisco Peace Treaty and other relevant bilateral treaties, the issues of reparations, property and claims of the relevant parties to those agreements, including the issue of claims by individuals, had already been legally settled.

In practical matters, the interpretation to deny or limit spousal rape had not been established, but that could be done and there had been court precedents.

The delegation said that pimping activities or offering place for prostitution were punishable. Child prostitution and solicitation of child prostitution were also punishable.
The Government had been taking action against trafficking from abroad. The victims, once identified, could in full consideration of the individual situation obtain a residence permit in Japan.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

An Expert welcomed that the legislation to combat child pornography existed, but asked for more information regarding its implementation in practice.  She referred to the publication of certain Japanese manga comic books containing child pornography, and asked whether anyone had been prosecuted for circulating those books. 

An Expert said that the answer of the delegation on the issue of comfort women was unacceptable and contradictory.  On the one hand, the Government of Japan denied the existence of comfort women, while on another hand, the Government reached an agreement on that same issue.  If Japan was so willing to solve the issue, would it send an apology to all comfort women, who had been waiting for their situation to be recognized for over 70 years? 

An Expert deplored the lack of understanding of gender violence by the delegation.  Was the Government considering the establishment of injunctions and prosecution without complaints?  She underlined the importance of Japan investigating and addressing gaps. 

Replies by the Delegation

In response to the comments made by an Expert, the delegation explained that the agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea explicitly confirmed that the issue of comfort women was finally and irreversibly resolved. It was not true that the Japanese Government denied history. The Japanese Government was painfully aware of its responsibilities and offered its sincere apologies and remorse.  The involvement of the military with regard to the establishment of comfort stations had been acknowledged in the past.  However, the figure of 200,000 persons as the number of comfort women lacked concrete evidence. The expression “sex-slaves” also contradicted the facts, and it was regrettable that a Committee Member had raised points contradicting the facts.

The Government was keen to provide swift protection to victims of domestic violence.  Japan did not want to unjustly infringe on the other party’s rights, which has why the courts would decide on a case-by-case basis whether to order protection measures.  Rape was currently prosecutable if the victim filed a formal complaint.  But discussions were ongoing on whether to allow prosecution in the absence of such a complaint. 

Turning to pornography, the delegation informed that the police had made efforts to arrest and punish those responsible for diffusing offensive materials. 

Questions by Experts

An Expert regretted that women were under-represented within public and private sectors, and recalled that the Committee had previously urged Japan to ensure that the representation of women was strengthened.  She regretted the lack of data regarding the representation of migrant women in the political life.  She was concerned that women from Okinawa and Korean women, as well as women with disabilities, were insufficiently represented.  The current voting system did not allow minority groups to be adequately represented, it was noted.  Had Japan considered establishing a more proportional election system that would ensure better representation? 

Another Expert welcomed that Japan promoted girls’ access to education both domestically and internationally, but noted that gaps remained at the very local level.  The Expert pointed at the fact that girls were not joining science and technology studies despite efforts by the Government to promote the inclusion of girls in those fields.  Women were also little represented among academic staff.  What monitoring strategies was the Government applying to ensure gender equality in the education system?  The Expert regretted the lack of information and data disaggregated by sex regarding women and girls belonging to ethnic minorities, including Buraku people, as well as migrant women and women with disabilities, particularly in light of the high rate of illiteracy among those groups. 

On employment and labour issues, an Expert pointed at the huge pay gap in Japan.  Japan needed to implement the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, and include a provision prohibiting wage discrimination on the ground of gender in its legislation.  Concerns remained regarding the huge amount of women employed in precarious work.  Further, the absence of sexual harassment prohibition was a matter of concern, along with the fact that Japan was one of the few countries that had not ratified International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 111 on Discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. 

Why was it so difficult to prohibit sexual harassment in Japan, the Expert inquired. 

What measures had been taken to protect the rights of migrant workers?  An Expert noted that women with disabilities and indigenous women were the groups that faced the most discrimination in accessing employment. 

With regard to health issues, an Expert asked whether Japan was ensuring equal access to health service for women belonging to minorities.  Clarifications were also required regarding efforts to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and safe abortion, as well as on the use of forced sterilization.  Would the Government legalize abortion explicitly in cases of rape, incest or severe malformation of the foetus?  How did Japan ensure that the health system responded adequately to the needs of lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons? 

Replies by the Delegation

For the time being, the Government did not plan to adopt a comprehensive legislation prohibiting all kinds of discrimination, as such prohibition was already enshrined within the Constitution and several laws relevant to education, employment, etc., said the delegation. 

Parliamentarians and political parties were encouraged to promote gender parity, a delegate informed.  Measures were being taken to increase the number of female Japanese ambassadors, and to promote the appointment of more women within international organizations and national public institutions. 

With regard to education, a delegate said that the Government had adopted policies that sought to ensure equal enrolment rates between male and female students, including financial support to families with low incomes.  In 2015, the Act for the Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace mandated universities to adopt plans to increase the appointment of women within the education sector.  The law already explicitly prohibited discrimination in terms of access to education, included on the grounds of gender and income.  Gender equality was taught as part of the school curricula.  

On employment, it was explained that the Equal Employment Opportunity Law contained a provision obliging businesses to prevent harassment.  A further study was necessary in order for Japan to ratify International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 111.  The International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 100 concerning the equal remuneration for men and women worker  had been ratified by Japan.  Dispositions were included to ensure that women and men received equal pay for equal work.  Gender-based discrimination was in principle prohibited by the Law on Equal Employment Opportunities. 

General policies on employment, education and health applied to people belonging to minorities, a delegate said.  Foreigners and girls with disabilities could enrol in education.   

Single mothers faced specific difficulties, a delegate acknowledged.  The Government was providing comprehensive support to facilitate their access to employment. 

Turning to health issues, a delegate said that forced sterilization used to be applied to prevent the spread of epidemics, after a thorough judicial process.  Sex education and sexual and reproductive health were included into school curricula.  All citizens of Japan had access to universal insurance and healthcare, including those belonging to sexual minorities. 

Questions by Experts

An Expert deeply regretted the delegation’s response concerning forced sterilization, and underlined the need to provide reparation to the victims. 

Starting a new round of questions, another Expert noted that the report by Japan did not contain information regarding discrimination against elderly women, particularly with regard to pensions. 

A Committee Expert asked whether measures had been taken to address the needs of rural women and domestic workers.

Another Expert commended Japan’s efforts in favour of disaster risk reduction and its gender perspective, but noted that the implementation of those efforts at the local level faced difficulties.  Women were under-represented in disaster response efforts, which was also related to gender stereotypes in Japan.  The Expert underlined the importance of capacity-building to encourage women to do more. 

A Committee Expert regretted the absence of legal provisions regarding the distribution of marital property, but noted that case law had developed on the matter.  What prevented the Government from adopting appropriate legislation?  Of concern was also the absence of legal means for women to force the disclosure of their husbands’ properties, which would lead to discrimination in cases of divorce. 

Concern was also expressed over the absence of legal guarantee to ensure that the best interest of the child was systematically taken into consideration in cases of divorce. 

Replies by the Delegation

On matters relating to divorce, a delegate said that family courts would consider divorce cases in the absence of an agreement between the parties, and would determine the splits among marital properties.  No legislation had been enacted so far regarding the split of assets.  Such legislation would contravene the case-by-case nature of such decisions. 

Concluding Remarks

SHINSUKE SUGIYAMA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, in concluding remarks, said that the Japanese delegation had made an utmost effort to respond to all the questions put forward by the Experts.  He then referred to the recently announced death of the former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and expressed his condolences to his friends and relatives.   

NAELA GABR, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation of Japan, and encouraged it to give due attention to the recommendations of the Committee.  In closing, she referred to the death of former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and paid tribute to his commitments in favour of peace and women’s rights.   

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