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Japanese, Egyptian women face similar struggle against inequality

Mariam Mecky , Monday 15 Feb 2016
Egypt and Japan
Miwa Kato, UN Women Country Director speaks during a Panel discussion during the Forum on Inclusive Growth and Empowerment “Role of Women and Youth in Transforming Societies: Egypt and Japan, Comparing Notes” in Cairo, February 14, 2016. (Photo: Mariam Mecky)
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Despite their distant geographical locations, divergent economies and different cultures, Japanese and Egyptian women have been encountering similar challenges impeding their empowerment and active participation in public life.

"There are a lot of cultural and traditional barriers in both countries, which has to do with the value-system of society," Miwa Kato, UN Women country director in Egypt, told Ahram Online.

"So much of how things work in these two societies is oriented towards males, such as legal practices, working hours, evaluation systems in schools, and job performances are all geared around a very masculine-biased culture," Kato highlighted.

Abla Abdel-Latif, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council for Economic Development, said on Sunday that "once women are born they are always referred to as somebody's daughter or somebody's wife.

"In short, they are raised to serve. I think the same problem exists in Japan. Women should realise their own dreams," added Abdel-Latif, who is also the executive director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies, in a forum titled 'Role of Women and Youth in Transforming Societies: Egypt and Japan, Comparing Notes'.

Makiko Tachimori, vice chair of the Women in Business Committee for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, confirmed that there are similar challenges for women and girls in Japan.

"In Japan, you can't have both; you can either have a family or be a working woman," she said.

Japan ranks 101 out of 145 countries in gender equality, while Egypt ranks 136, making it among the bottom 10 countries, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2015.

The report was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress among the thresholds of political and economic empowerment, education and health.

"In the past 15 years, Japanese women constituted 10 to 15 percent of the national legislative council,” said Keiko Yamamoto, correspondent at NHK World Department and Founder of Baratoge women in media networking community.

She adds that in Japan, there is a lot of debate and disagreement on this quota, which echoes the one implemented in Egypt this year for parliament.

Yamamoto asserts that there should be a strong presence for women in local community councils to impact state policies.

"Women are present in most fields but not in leading positions. That is why there is no change on the ground," she remarks.

There are 89 female MPs in the current Egyptian parliament – elected in 2015 – representing up to 15 per cent, which exceeds the 12 per cent quota for women on electoral lists. 

According to Egypt's parliamentary election law, the quota for women only applies for non-independent candidates on electoral lists.

"Positive" image

President of the Japan-Egypt Parliamentary Friendship Association Yuriko Koike says that there are often false stereotypical images of both Egyptian and Japanese women.

Koike, who has lived in Cairo for five years in the 1970s and studied at Cairo University, says that in Japan and the West, Egyptian women are believed to be passive, quiet and follow in the footsteps of others; a stereotype that mirrors that of Japanese women.

"This is a unique similarity," Kato said. "In these two countries, women are perceived as victims hiding in the background, even though there are strong, active women as we saw in the forum."

"I personally know that in both societies, there are women who are strong and vibrant," said Kato, adding that addressing women's issues should be systematic reform, not individual cases.

"Media has such a big role to play. It has to work on how to portray womenand what kind of heroines [are depicted] to set the pattern," she said, affirming the importance of role models.

"By changing and working on improving the situation for women, and this applies to Egypt as much as Japan, this would definitely improve the status quo of the community at large,” Kato concludes.

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