CONNECTED with us

Follow Us

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn - Grey Circle

© 2019 WomEnpowered International. All Rights Reserved


Working Together For
Women's Empowerment.

February is the month of Valentine's Day and remembering our loved ones. This was also the topic of the latest session of WE Int. Coffee Conversation on Feb 21. Love as we know comes in all shapes and forms, it blossoms under different arrangements and is expressed in variety of ways. What is healthy love? How can love be channeled in empowering and liberating relationships? Those are some of the questions we unpacked in a wonderful, honest and initimate discussion over some mulled wine and good company.

Here are the reference to some of the things that came up in the conversation and will hopefully guide you to to challenge the idea of love and empowerment:


Brené Brown - The Power of Vulnerability

Esther Perel - Rethinking infidelity ... a talk for anyone who has ever loved

2. Podcast

Tim Ferriss - Striving versus Self-Acceptance

"Dear Sugars" is here, speaking straight into your ears. Hosted by the original "Sugars," Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, the podcast fields all your questions — no matter how deep or dark — and offers radical empathy in return.

3. Netflix show - The Call to Courage

4. Books

Love languages: an important concept to understand for healty relationships

Marriage should be based on love, right? But does it seem as though you and your spouse are speaking two different languages? New York Times bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman guides couples in identifying, understanding, and speaking their spouse’s primary love language—quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.

Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust.

From intimate relationships to global politics, Sarah Schulman observes a continuum: that inflated accusations of harm are used to avoid accountability. Illuminating the difference between Conflict and Abuse, Schulman directly addresses our contemporary culture of scapegoating. This deep, brave, and bold work reveals how punishment replaces personal and collective self-criticism, and shows why difference is so often used to justify cruelty and shunning.

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

5. People

Dr. Nicole LePera is a Holistic Psychologist who believes that mental wellness is for everyone. She views mental and physical struggles from a whole person perspective and works to identify the underlying physical and emotional causes. Her instagram tackles issues on self-healing; dealing with trauma and building healthy relationships.

WE Int. hosts monthly coffee sessions for members and non-members to have a informal discussion, make friends and share knowledge and experiences about gender/women' issues. It is an inclusive and respectful space - everyone is welcome!

Since the founding of WE Int., the co-founders have sought an experienced and compassionate advisor who could guide the organization in the right direction. It has become increasingly clear, however, that UTokyo lacks experts in the field of gender equality and diversity, and who publicly share the vision inspiring WE Int.

One day, one of the co-founders came across an interview with Professor Jackie Steele, featured on the official UTokyo English website, and in which she shares her concerns about the slow progress in gender equality in Japan and her wish for the University of Tokyo to become a “beacon of hope for younger generations and notably for young women in Japan.”

Without further delay, WE Int. Board reached out to Dr. Steele and asked her to consider becoming a Strategic Advisor to the organization. She kindly accepted our request.

WE Int. Board of Directors is honored to benefit from Dr. Steele’s expertise on intersectional understandings of diversity and policy design, her advice on how to sustainable build the capacity of our organization, and her strategic guidance on how to foster impact and inclusion for diverse young women students at the University of Tokyo and in Greater Tokyo.

We interviewed Dr. Steele about the challenges facing WE Int. and young women in Japan in the Reiwa era.

1. Why did you accept to be WE International’s advisor? What kind of potential did you see in the organization?

During my 6 years as associate professor at the Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo, I became increasingly aware of how national universities in Japan, including my own employer, had fallen behind on some of the most pressing social and democratic issues confronting contemporary times. Gender equality and the empowerment of women is one such critical example. I was struck by the low numbers of women students (less than 20%), the low presence of women faculty invited to “UTokyo Women” events, and the dismal number of tenured women professors (approx. 8%).

In short, I felt very isolated and decided to seek out research collaborations outside of UTokyo. Today, there are still too few professors researching in Japanese and English on leading international topics of democracy and that are informed by intersectional analyses of migration, multiculturalism, feminism, critical race studies, colonialism, gender, sexuality, LGBTQ rights, disability, among other key areas of law, political science, public policy, globalization, and international relations. Too often professors tackle one facet of systemic exclusion and inequality and then remain in a silo of thinking that fails to explore transferable lessons across multiple social groups and positions of marginalization. We need more intersectional analyses and intersectional conversations across scholars working on democratic equality.

Of all Japanese universities, I believe that Todai has a pivotal civic and democratic duty of educating the next generation of leaders in Japan, and of role modeling how higher education can serve Japanese democracy by nurturing a vision of Reiwa Japan as the land of the rising sons AND rising daughters. Currently, political leaders are attempting to find proactive structural measures to close the gap and to close it quickly. Hearing from the next generations of brilliant Todai women graduates is an important place for governments, political parties, and companies to validate whether they are on the right track or not.

This is where WE Int. is uniquely well situated to be of service and offer advice to the University of Tokyo and guidance to the political and economic elites attempting to walk the talk. If young women are not supported by the establishment, we know that young women vote with their feet and they go abroad to find professional opportunity. Or if they return to Japan, they often choose multinational corporations to help them make a more inlusive workplace environment that does not discriminaste based on gender. Young educated women have power on the current job market and I want them to be aware of their choices and to choose eyes wide open for the adventures and pursuits they deem most rewarding for their lives.

As a newly established organization, it is important for WE Int. to receive all the guidance and support possible to advance gender parity and women’s empowerment on campus. The structural issues from educational institutions directly feed into those of the professional world, and by nurturing a collaborative relationship between the two, there is more potential for impact for both sides. Therefore, if I can help support the women students at the University of Tokyo in their own voluntary efforts to make the lives of women students better during their time at the university, in feminist solidarity, I am pleased to help in whatever way possible. We all want the University of Tokyo to be a beacon of hope and to model what it looks like to provide a truly progressive training ground for the thought leading daughters and sons of Japan.

2. What do you think is the strength of a student-led organization like WE Int., or what do you think are the strengths of operating at a university campus?

In historically male dominated institutions, professional fields, or universities, we know that there is often a “chilly climate,” and at times an overt culture as well as unconscious lack of inclusion of women students, their needs, perspectives, and of critical career mentorship of women students by male professors. To generate a change in organizational culture and values, and to generate a more inclusive space of engagement for diverse students, it is key for social groups to carve out safe space for peer to peer connection, solidarity-building, and collective empowerment. Women faculty role models are few and far between and yet young women, and notably, young men need a diversity of role models.

I hope that this innovative student-led organization can help raise the voices of women students to the attention of the university, their male student peers, and also to broader Japanese society.

(Jackie discussing female leadership at the Mashing Up Conference in Shibuya, 8th November 2019).

Young men need to learn from women professors of diverse disciplinary backgrounds such that women’s authority will cease to be constantly challenged due to patriarchal assumptions about the gender hierarchy of intelligence and thought leadership, nor as a result of more subtle unconscious bias. Young women need to see people like them at every level of the university hierarchy to aspire to these roles, and to really experience a truly inclusive organization as the default “norm,” where respect for radical individuality, diversity and innovation is a confirmed and shared value. That kind of formative experience marks young women and prepares them to aspire to, and then achieve greatness in all fields. I hope that this innovative student-led organization can help raise the voices of women students to the attention of the university, their male student peers, and also to broader Japanese society. At a minimum, I hope diverse women will connect and feel supported by one another during their studies to validate each other’s courage and confidence. I am personally very excited to meet, exchange ideas, and collaborate with these impressive young minds.

3. What are some difficulties women’s organizations face when they operate in Japanese society, and what are some strategies to overcome those difficulties?

I have collaborated with a variety of organizations over the last two decades in Japan. In 1999, I founded the Chikuma International Exchange Association in Nagano to tackle multicultural exclusions in rural Japan. Given the chilly climate I was finding in Japanese political science, in 2014 I co-founded (with M. Miura and K. Shin) the Research Network on Gender and Diversity in Political Representation to create a bilingual informal network for junior to senior scholars interested in these topics. I was honoured to serve as a diversity advisor to the Japan Women’s Network for Disaster Risk Reduction, led by Domoto Akiko and Hara Hiroko, and to engage in participatory action research with NPO Women’s Eye, led by Ishimoto Megumi. I have regularly attended QnoKai’s efforts to promote the adoption of gender quotas in electoral politics, and I am a member of many LGBTQ advocacy organizations in Canada and Japan as well. Throughout these various roles over the past 20 years, and building from my own academic expertise in intersectional diversity and feminist political theory and public policy, I have facilitated exchanges between Canadian/Québécois “diversity feminist frameworks” and Japanese research, governmental, and civil society partners working on diversity and gender equality from grassroots to national and multilateral (UN) law reform activism.

As much as possible, I have shared with Japanese stakeholders (academics, governments, parliamentarians, civil society, women’s organizations, etc.) my Canadian intellectual training and philosophical grounding in intersectional understandings of complex diverse identity. I see myself as a pivotal bridge, given that I can convey these ideas in English, French, and Japanese. These ideas about the value of diversity are the key to holistic paradigm shift. Why? In practice, it is very difficult to get law reform or paradigm shift through the use of dichotomous, single-issue social issues. Work-life balance is not a women’s issue. It will not gain traction if it continues to be framed as such. Law reform requires coalitions of support across multiple stakeholders. Dichotomous, zero-sum formulations are ineffective, even when gender is cross-cutting demographically.

Work-life-balance, declining birthrates, aging society, child poverty, male monopolies over electoral offices have all been reduced to men versus gender issues

'Innovation through Diversity', Canadian Embassy.

when they are democratic issues, economic issues, and shared collective challenges that require collective democratic solutions and buy-in. Similarly, in my writing, I work from a diversity analysis. It is not just about getting more women elected into politics. The goal must fundamentally be about “diversifying” the holistic talent pool so there are diverse women and significantly more DIVERSE MEN competing and gaining office to bring their unique worldviews to enrich public policy for everyone’s benefit.

One of my strategies within Japan over the past 15 years has been to consciously publish in Japanese about the endogenous kanji and concept of 多様性 (diversity). I have also then brought forward the Canadian concept and public policy practice of intersectionality 交差性分析 (intersectional analysis) so as to encourage academics, researchers, governments, and civil society organizations to move beyond the dichotomy of single-issue ideas. Silos of “gender”, or “race” or “disability”, when taken separately and when they stay in silos separate from each other, do not bring paradigm shift. They are reductive and limit the conversation to single-issues, and a zero-sum, largely inaccurate and stereotypical series of generalizations about “all men” and “all women”, or “all Japanese” and “all gaijin”.

We need to resist the intellectual laziness that these frameworks perpetuate.

Men and women are exceptionally diverse groups. Men are diverse. Women are diverse. We need all actors in society, including social and natural scientists to evolve their research methods and theoretical and empirical paradigms towards more nuanced and intersectional understandings of diverse contemporary human political identities, such that our findings will do justice to the complexity and contingent fluidity of the human condition in this time of globalization.

I am very pleased to have seen a distinct “discursive shift” in the last 8 years, with increasing numbers of stakeholders attempting to take diversity (多様性) more seriously.

As a consultant and founder of en-joi Diversity & Inclusion Consulting, I am excited for the opportunities to engage with thought leaders in corporations, universities, government ministries, and civil society organizations to facilitate paradigm shifts in how we structure our organizational culture towards horizontal collaboration and innovation, how we re-think our decision making processes towards inclusive leadership, and how we imagine the future of work to unleash the potential of all stakeholders. I am very pleased to have seen a distinct “discursive shift” in the last 8 years, with increasing numbers of stakeholders attempting to take diversity (多様性) more seriously. While it is often not accompanied by intersectional foundations, it is my hope that en-joi D&I consulting will further support that development in very concrete ways to foster more meaningful practices of belonging and social solidarity.

My advice to WE Int. has consistently been to focus on intersectional understandings of diversity to foster broad coalitions of stakeholders who will feel likewise included and affected by the movement to build inclusion on campus. Allies of all walks are essential to change agency. And naturally, there is likewise value in having a diversity of tactics in your toolkit so as to reach out to diverse women and men on campus differently. Using a diversity of events and messages that all convey and mobilize solidarity-building on campus will allow WE Int to be the change and validate diverse women and men students’ realities and shared values as expressed through the organization’s words, deeds, and inclusive thought leadership.

(Dr. Steele speaking at a panel discussion on education and gender identity hosted by WE Int. on December 13)

4. Where do you see WE International In 5 years?

I believe it will depend on the vision and institutional sustainability of the organization that is currently being built by the board of directors, and which I am honoured to guide and support actively. WE Int. has the potential of mobilizing UTokyo Women Alumni and of creating UTokyo Women Alumni Chapters in major cities across Japan and also in major cities around the world. These inspiring alumni of the University of Tokyo would ideally become active collaborators in raising funds for the organization, creating scholarships for Todai women in STEM or other under-represented fields, and of contributing their mentoring and soft power in ways that supports the empowerment, academic success, and future careers of women students at UTokyo, until such time as UTokyo women constitute a majority of students in all disciplines, and a majority of tenured professors. How many years do we think it will take to enact this change? How can we accomplish it together as women supporting women, and with our progressive male allies supporting us as well? Perhaps the WE Int. website should visibly track the progress on these data points to raise awareness and further motivate the University and all allies for equality.

Jackie F. Steele (PhD, University of Ottawa) is a trilingual political scientist and longtime (1997) Japan resident with expertise in holistic diversity integration policies, women's empowerment, disaster risk governance, and inclusive decision-making institutions and practices. She is currently Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Law, Nagoya University. As a bridge offering her expertise outside of academia, and as the Founder of en-joi, Dr. Steele is guiding corporations with change management grounded in intersectional approaches to diversity, technical policy design and implementation, and interdisciplinary insights from her research on gender equality, LGBTQ inclusion, multicultural diversity, and innovation through inclusive talent mobilization.

In regards to the recent events concerning the gender disparities of Japan's top universities, three WE Int. members respond to this article published by the New York Times.

Our last respondent is Darina Obukhova a Computational Biology and Medical Sciences Graduate student at the University of Tokyo.

Recently we learnt the alarming statistics of only 1 of 5 Todai students being a woman. This immediately made me think about another statistics – where around 15% of researchers in Japan are female. I feel this number in action every time I come to the class offered by my Department of Computational Biology and Medical Sciences where majority of professors are male. I think of it every time I look around myself in a classroom and see mostly male faces. A strong skew towards one gender feels a little bit strange and unwelcoming. Sometimes it even feels like a meeting in some sort of male-only club and I ask myself if I opened a wrong door.

All this mixture of feelings and thoughts makes me want more strong female role models in the department. It also makes me think of reasons for such a small number of female students and, later on, female researchers. I believe those two statics are rooted in a range of similar reasons. These reasons include the stereotype that a woman is supposed to choose whether she wants to be a wife and mother or an ambitious professional. While I was studying in the University of Tsukuba for my bachelor’s degree and assisting in several research labs, I met Japanese women with PhDs who worked as lab technicians. They did so because after completing doctorate they were required to choose between propelling themselves through the academic career or family life. Neither of them thought they could have both at the same time.

The reasons also include the stereotype that women should try harder than men. The idea that women have physiologically different brain, probably less predisposed to difficult analytic tasks and more inclined to tears, is also among them. All of these beliefs are archaic and irrelevant, as it is possible to have both –a successful career and a fulfilling family life. A biomedical study from the UK Biobank found out that male brains tend to have slightly higher total brain volume and higher volumes in every subcortical region than female ones, yet when adjusted relative to overall brain size, both sexes’ brain are far more similar than they are different.

This should be considered in the admission policies of the universities and advertisements of those. Stop pinkinizing the brain!

Darina, raised in the Russian-controlled Caucasus at the military base, she is currently pursuing her master's degree in Computational Biology and Medical Sciences at the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo. Her research is about the genes encoding for E3 ligases, proteins involved in protein degradation. She is passionate about science, science communication, and gender balance in STEM-related fields. She also does part-time jobs mostly related to writing/editing and enjoys snowboarding, reading and meditating in her free time.