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Japan’s ‘Shadow Pandemic’ Amidst Covid-19


(Source: Osumi, Magdalena. “Curbs to Stem COVID-19 in Japan May Fuel Domestic Violence and Abuse.”The Japan Times \ Kyodo, 6 Apr. 2020.)


As Japan rolls into its third week of self-confinement due to COVID-19, the country is joining the ranks of the international situation where lockdown conditions have led to worrisome rise in violence against women. While the world continues to struggle in the fight against the viral pandemic, we must also be aware of the accompanying, yet nevertheless severe threat of the “shadow pandemic” that is happening simultaneously. The World Health Organization emphasizes the significant health impacts “particularly [of] intimate partner/domestic violence, on women and their children”. This potentially results “in injuries and serious physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems, including sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unplanned pregnancies”.


Many of us may envision our homes as a place of comfort and refuge, keeping us safe from the virus, but the unfortunate reality is that staying inside creates heightened conditions for this type of violence. More power and opportunities are given to the abuser, whereby the victim cannot escape.


This is not only a threat for previous victims. Due to worsening family circumstances from losing income, jobs, and other stresses, women everywhere are more susceptible to violence by their partners. Moreover, the already overwhelmed workforce has been unable to provide adequate consultation and other support services despite the escalating situation. In 2019, Tokyo recorded single-digit averages for monthly calls made to consultation centers, but last month marked a significant increase to 23. All Japan Women’s Shelter Network, a victim-support NGO, raised further concerns that Japan’s gradually declining economy will bring long-term increases in domestic violence cases.


The gravity of the situation, particularly in Japan, cannot be ignored.


While our current context calls attention to domestic violence cases in particular, there are other pre-existing conditions of violence and harassment in Japan that foregrounds these events, and should not be overlooked. For example, a majority of women have been sexually harassed at least once in the workplace, and almost half of all women in Japan have been touched without consent. In fact, conceptions of consent in Japan are widely misunderstood, with over two thirds of people believing that certain actions (i.e. drinking together, going for a drive, attire, holding hands etc.) can imply consent (clarification: consent must be explicitly expressed). There are ~10,000 criminal offenses on sex crimes per year in Japan, with a 13.3% crime reporting rate, meaning that most cases are not even reflected by this statistic. Of these victims, most are underage girls.


But unlike the upsurge of social movements against gendered violence seen elsewhere (such as #MeToo), Japan has yet to see a similar scale of outpouring support and media storms that vow to openly confront these issues.


That is why the members of WomEmpowerment International have launched our ‘El Tendedero’ campaign at the University of Tokyo, which is a continuation of Mexican artist Monica Mayer’s original art installation. This project aims to raise awareness about the growing magnitude of the issue, by asking people to share their stories and opinions on harassment and gender violence by responding to some questions on the subject. These anonymized responses are then put on display along a clothesline — though we have since changed the format to a virtual one.


By filling out this Google Form, you would be contributing to the project by sharing your thoughts and experiences, which will remain completely anonymous, and become a part of our website’s publication. Please help us create awareness around the episodes of harassment and sexual violence women experience every day. By embedding a Latin American art project in a Japanese context, we show the persistence of these issues across societies around the world.


**If you don’t currently live in Japan, but would still like to contribute with your answers, simply leave the questions related to a Japanese context blank, and submit the rest of the questionnaire.**


**Most importantly** if you or anyone you know is a victim of violence, please refer to this comprehensive list of resources in Japan (in English and Japanese) to seek help.


#AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic

#EndViolence

#ElTendedero

#spreadtheword

#Standupjapan

#bewomenpowered

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