Posted with kind permission, this is an excerpt from a January 29 Foreign Affairs article by Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Devin Stewart. This piece is part of Stewart's ongoing research project on changing moral attitudes in Japan and around the world.
When I recently visited Sayaka Osakabe at her sunny apartment in the quiet suburbs of Kawasaki, Japan, she spoke at length about her plans to transform Japanese society.
Osakabe, 37, has become something of a national symbol of women's rights, leading a highly publicized campaign against "matahara," a term she has turned into a buzzword for pregnancy discrimination. Two years ago, as a contract editor for a quarterly newsletter in Japan, Osakabe says she was taking time off in the middle of a trying pregnancy when her boss knocked on her front door and asked her to resign. (Her absence, she recalls him saying, had "caused trouble.") She returned to work soon after, only to suffer a miscarriage. Following her recovery, she says, her boss asked her if she was still having sex.
Although Japanese law forbids this type of harassment, Osakabe's story is strikingly common. According to a recent report by the human resources company Recruit, a majority of Japanese women quit their jobs after having a child. And that reality has exacted a heavy toll on diversity in the top echelons of corporate Japan: whereas women occupy 14 percent of executive posts in the United States, they hold only 1.1 percent of comparable positions in Japan.
To read the full article, click here.