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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #145: July 7, 2003

Japan's quietly accepted discrimination surfaces

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE


Article:
"Japan's quietly accepted discrimination surfaces"
AP
http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2003/07/06/2003058264


Comments:

The article above reports a number of recent successive incidents where senior lawmakers made comments that seem to deny equal rights for women. It is shameful, of course, but backtracking a bit might provide a better backdrop.

Equality before the law in its sophisticated form has a short history of significantly less than a century. People were never equal until well into the 20th century even in the most "advanced" societies.

The US Constitution originally had no description with regard to human rights. Although the Constitution was ratified in 1788, people's rights was not stipulated in it, and the first ten amendments, collectively called " The Bill of Rights," were ratified and became a part of the Constitution in 1791. These amendments recognized the rights of the people vis--vis the state, but equality among people was not mentioned there.

In 1865, Amendment 13 was added to prohibit slavery as an aftermath of the Civil War where the legitimacy of slavery was one of the causes. As a hindsight, this was a big step forward in recognizing that human beings are to be treated equally, but at the time it was specifically aimed at banning slavery, and the people belonging to different ranks was still considered natural.

Amendment 15 was ratified and became effective in 1870, which stated, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." This made people equal in respect to race and color, but not to sex. It had to wait until 1920, when Amendment 19 was added, which stipulated, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Perhaps the most sophisticated form in this regard currently is in the "Charter of Fundamental Rights" proclaimed on the occasion of the EU summit in Niece in December 2000. It is a brief 22-page document, indeed very short for an EU document, nevertheless covering extensive areas of citizens' freedom, rights, solidarity, and justice along with equality. The section on equality reads, "Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited." Truly, the concept of equality and non-discrimination has come a long way, but it is doubtful, to say the least, if any state or society currently adheres to this statement.

As for Japan, it was in 1925 when voting rights were given to all men of 25 or over. This is referred to in history books as the time when citizens obtained "universal suffrage," the designation which is understandably denounced by recent human rights activists. It was after WWII, in 1945, when finally, every men and women 20 years of age and over was guaranteed the right to vote.

Current Japanese Constitution, in its Article 14 states, "All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin."

Nevertheless, in practice, it is still an uphill battle to acquire true equality between the sexes. In order to maintain the steam, it might worth recognizing the long path and endeavors our ancestors and vanguards have gone through, and realize that it was't just there from the beginning, but to the contrary, equality needs to be fought for and won, and actively preserved with care.

Having said that, perhaps many cannot but sigh at a formidable task of winning true equality, as if equality on sex has been so difficult, how would it be on race, color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age, and sexual orientation?

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