Working Women’s Network
Shizuko Koedo, Manager, International Affair
CEDAW and the Equal Employment Opportunity Law
Japan signed the CEDAW in 1980, brought the domestic laws in line with the Convention, and adopted the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL). CEDAW was ratified in 1985. The EEOL, however, was not effective, as the companies merely had the responsibility of making the effort towards realizing equal opportunities. Moreover, the provision in the Guidelines under the EEOL, limiting the effect of equal treatment to within the hiring categories, provided the companies an excuse to introduce the career-track system, which amounted to “indirect discrimination.” The system resulted in all the men and just a handful of women being assigned to the tracks leading to management positions, and the rest of the women to the clerical track.
The Female Employees of Sumitomo Manufacturers Go to Court
In 1994, 9 women working for Sumitomo Electric Industries, Sumitomo Chemicals and Sumitomo Metal Industries applied for mediation under the EEOL to the Osaka Women and Young People’s Office, claiming a pay difference with male employees with the same educational backgrounds and years in employment. Except for the case of Sumitomo Metal, mediation was not initiated and the women brought their cases to court. The plaintiffs for the Sumitomo Electric also filed suit against the “state” for the non-initiation of mediation, claiming that it was an abuse of authority by the head of the Osaka Office.
Support for the Sumitomo cases led to the creation of the Working Women’s Network in 1995, with 200 members. Its purpose was to improve the status of women. Currently, it has 650 members, men comprising 10%. The main strategy of WWN is (1) to inform international organizations about the situation, including judicial cases, of working women in Japan, and to attract overseas support to put pressure on the government and employers, (2) to inform the general public through mass media, such as the newspapers and TV, and (3) to negotiate with the ministries, to call for the amendment of the EEOL so that it would be compatible with CEDAW.
The Huge Effect of CEDAW
Of particular note was the huge gift that the CEDAW recommendations in 2003 provided to the plaintiffs of the Sumitomo cases. In February of that year, the plaintiffs and members of WWN flew to New York to speak in the CEDAW pre-sessional working group, to provide materials and lobby the Committee members.
In July, we traveled again to New York, to be present during the CEDAW examination of the Japanese government report, and the Sumitomo plaintiffs spoke during the session. The members lobbied the CEDAW members again. The efforts were rewarded when the members’ questions to the government reflected the situations we faced.
In December, the judge in the Sumitomo Electric case referred to the CEDAW recommendations issued in August in his recommendation for a settlement, pointing to the steady progress towards realization of equality between men and women in the international society, led by the UN. The Sumitomo Electric case reached settlement, and the two plaintiffs were promoted to management positions. The trend continued and the Sumitomo Chemical case in the following year, as well as the Sumitomo Metal case in April 2006, concluded in considerably favorable settlement for the plaintiffs.
Indirect Discrimination Included in the EEOL Amendment
The CEDAW recommendation, calling for an explicit inclusion of indirect discrimination in domestic law, proved to be another gift for us. WWN started lobbying Diet (parliament) members, and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare using the document. After a year and half of lobbying and organizing meetings with Diet members, the amended EEOL went into force since April 2007.
For the first time in Japan, indirect discrimination was explicitly prohibited, although on a limited basis. WWN is working towards the next amendment of the EEOL, to increase the scope of the indirect discrimination and to realize equal treatment, for the purpose of the legislation of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.