Opinion: Gender disparity across Japan's top institutions Vol. 1
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.
The first respondent is Brooke Jackson, student at Yokohama National University.
For several decades, Japan has been widely considered one of the most innovative and technologically advanced countries in the world. However, it’s also no secret that this same nation has simultaneously battled (and blatantly disregarded) one of its most serious modern-day social issues: Gender inequality.
With recent objections such as the #kutoo movement and the backlash over the ban of women wearing glasses while at work, it came as no surprise for many that when The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 was released, Japan (having previously been ranked 110 on a global scale-out of 153) was ranked 121 for gender inequality worldwide, falling 11 places to its lowest level ever recorded. This announcement reignited serious discussions about Japanese women and their role in contemporary Japanese society.
The distinct lack of female representation is observable within every facet of Japanese life, most notably in educational and corporate settings where women who are comfortably thriving are few and far between. An article published by The New York Times on December 8th titled, ‘At Japan’s Most Elite University, Just 1 in 5 Students Is a Woman,’ emphasised the glaring reality of the current education environment at The University of Tokyo.
However, the gender-related issues that Japanese students encounter exist far beyond the halls of the country’s most prestigious institution. Other prominent Japanese universities experience many of the same concerns, some arguably even more so. One of these universities is Yokohama National University, an institution known for their leading urban science and engineering programs. Despite being one of the top national universities in the nation, YNU’s environment is no different. The institution's student body is made up of a staggering 79:21 male to female ratio. The majority of YNU’s departments are traditionally male-dominated fields and the lacking number of female students is evident on campus. Rarely in any of the engineering department buildings will you pass a female student in the halls. The same can be said when passing through the science department where the vast majority of the laboratories are occupied by male students.
There is a socially oppressive air that is not exclusively projected onto Japanese students but also onto international students who experience many of the same issues to varying degrees. In many of my own classes—which are urban-studies related and designed for international students but also taken by Japanese students—there is not only a distinct gender ratio difference but also a difference in the class dynamic. Female students are visibly more hesitant to raise their hands, share ideas and actively participate in discussions as these actions can be considered unladylike, improper and especially embarrassing when done in front of male classmates. I myself have also had moments of feeling awkward or inadequate when sharing relevant questions and comments or contribute to a discussion as the only female in a group. It should go without saying that all educational institutions should strive towards reducing societal gaps present within their student body. This includes striving to gain a balanced gender ratio within their student body as this would undoubtedly lead to improved performance and result in higher levels of participation and contribution from female students.
Subsequently, the gender gap issue that is failing young Japanese women is not exclusively a fault of the Japanese education system any more than it is a fault of the traditional Japanese social structure. Japanese social norms still restrict women from entering certain fields and consequently, the Japanese education system does not cater to female students the same way it does to its male students. Degrees in science or engineering are often not a desirable career choice for many Japanese women as many face the high possibility of adopting the traditional housewife role within the coming decade. Another contributing factor to this issue is the lack of female role models in science and engineering-related fields both on and off-campus. The lacking female representation is not only visible within the student body but also the faculty, as many of the specialised educators are predominantly male. The institutions that safeguard Japanese society are currently showing no outward efforts to close these gaps despite the fact that contemporary Japanese women no longer fit the mould set by the constraints of archaic roles and traditions.
With a new era fast approaching, Japan is long overdue for an active reconsideration of several areas of its social structure—many of which are outdated by global standards—if it is to eradicate gender inequality. Japanese universities will also need to reconsider in much the same way when appealing to prospective students if they are to improve the representation of women in education.
Originally from Adelaide, South Australia, Brooke Jackson is currently completing her Bachelors degree in Yokohama, Japan. Brooke is an avid reader, writer and globetrotter, with 20+ countries travelled to and counting. In her travels, Brooke has continued to pursue her artistic passions while becoming increasingly interested in the social, political and economic issues concerning our world.