2nd Quarterly, 2007 No.144

Minority Women - Standing Up and Linking Together

Outcomes of the Survey by and for Ainu Women, Buraku Women and Zainichi Korean Women


"We want a survey that will lead to solutions to the problems we ourselves face," - Ainu, Buraku and Zainichi Korean*1 women have now taken steps to turn their vision into reality by conducting a survey into the conditions faced by minority women. The survey was carried out through a questionnaire developed in discussions between women from these three communities. This was the first survey developed for and by minority women in Japan*2.

School students have not been taught about the history of the feudal social class system, indigenous assimilation policies or colonization. Thus, many people do not know how these historical events have developed into present social conditions. In particular, the problems faced by women of these minority communities have been overlooked. It is worth listening to the actual voices of these communities that are now available as a result of the efforts made by these women.

*1: "Zainichi Koreans" are people from the Korean Peninsular or who consider themselves to be descendants of people from the Korean Peninsular, regardless of their present citizenship. Generally, the term refers to people from the Korean Peninsular who settled in Japan in the historical context of the Japan's colonial control over the Korean Peninsular prior to 1945, and/or their descendants.

*2: Here, "minority women" refers to those women who belong to those communities whose various rights (ethnic, civil, political, economic and social) are not fully guaranteed. While this should include disabled and sexual minority women, only women from the above-mentioned three communities conducted the present survey.

Purposes and Significance of the Survey

1. Purposes and Significance

Presentation of Women's Experiences to Society in Survey Form

The idea to conduct a survey came out of an IMADR-JC Workshop on Multiple Discrimination against Minority Women working group that operated for a year from the end of 1999. Through discussions at the workshop, minority women from different communities concluded that a survey was needed. These women understand their own problems well, but have never attempted to investigate them thoroughly. They have internalized their knowledge and have thus lacked both objective data and the translation of their experiences into words. They concluded, "We want a survey that will lead to solutions to the problems we ourselves face." This is the purpose of the survey. To gather all of the words that explain their stories into a document and make it heard by the public.

Little public attention has been paid to the problems faced by minority women, and policies concerning women and human rights have also usually failed to acknowledge them. Another purpose of the survey is therefore to advocate for policies based on the conditions found through the survey.

The Social Movement and Empowerment of Women

The survey process was very important for all women involved due to its potential as a driving force to promote the survey as a social movement. Usually, a survey involves two clearly separated groups: those who conduct the survey, and those who are surveyed. We did our best to avoid this separation. We decided to involve as many people as possible since documenting their own experiences would mean participation in the movement that we wanted to form to make a difference. Some of the women involved in the survey discovered their personal experiences were not trivial, but actually reflected larger structural problems in society. These findings encouraged women to make progress in seeking better relationships with their male partners, and to find better ways to develop both the movement in general and the women's movement in particular.

The other significant aim of these initiatives was to create a network in which the three different groups of minority women who engaged in the survey would be able to continue to work together towards achieving their common goals. The three groups often met together to develop common questions for the survey, recognized again their commonalities and differences, and developed mutual understanding and reliance. In the course of reviewing the results of the survey, the three groups recognized many shared aspects of their histories and present situations. This helped strengthen their interrelationship and basis for networking.

2. Why and How the Survey Started

Collection of Data and Statistics on Minority Women Considered to be the State's Responsibility in the Light of the International Human Rights Standards

While we were hesitating in deciding whether or not to conduct the survey due to the difficulties and challenges we knew we might face, the consideration of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on the periodic report presented by the Japanese government provided the momentum to begin. In 1985, Japan ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. CEDAW examined the periodic report on the implementation of the Convention prepared by the Japanese government in New York in July 2003. We also prepared a report on the situation of minority women for submission to CEDAW and sent delegates to New York. As a result, multiple discrimination against minority women in Japan became one of the important issues for examination by CEDAW. In August 2003, CEDAW sent its concluding observations to the Japanese government with a recommendation to include statistics and data regarding minority women in the next periodic report. The following are some CEDAW comments made during the examination:

Expert Simonovic (Croatia)

・Also in connection with the reports, there is a large amount of statistical data, but no data on minority women, so perhaps we could obtain more physical data on minority women during this session or in the next governmental report.

Expert Kwaku (Nigeria)

On the issue of minority women, namely Buraku, Ainu, Okinawan and minority Korean women, I think my colleagues have already raised that issue and don't want to repeat themselves, but we would like some information particularly in your next report because the reports are completely silent on these minority issues, which is indeed very, very surprising.

Vice-Chair Heisoo Shin (Korea)

I echo my colleagues' concern about the complete lack of information on minority women, including Buraku, Ainu and Korean women. I hope to see much more statistical data that would report to the root of the issues that should be dealt with.

Expert Kapalata (Tanzania)

There is frustration regarding the implementation of Article 7 and 8 in the last 9 years. Women need to be more represented in positions of power and decision-making. It is hoped that the Japanese government will be provoked into giving the Committee a better appreciation of the positions of women in decision-making roles, as well as the participation of minority women in these decision-making positions, because we have heard the need to have statistics on minority women, and the need to have a report on the status of minority women. I would like this to be reflected in the next report and for it to be disaggregated by sex.

Chairperson Acar (Turkey)

A very important issue that I would want to underscore is that of multiple discrimination suffered by minority women, including indigenous women. Systematic information and data on how such variables as age, race and ethnic origin impact women is needed in order to assess how multiple discrimination affects women in Japan. There is indeed a lack of such information in this report. We welcome your oral remarks that you will take up the matter of minority women in the future and hope to receive systematic information on this in your next report.

Excerpts from the Concluding Observations for the 4th and 5th Periodic Reports of Japan prepared by CEDAW (August 2003)

29. The Committee expressed concern about the lack of information in the reports about the situation of minority women in Japan. The Committee expresses concern at the multiple forms of discrimination and marginalization that these groups of women may face with respect to education, employment, health, social welfare and exposure to violence, including within their own communities.

30. The Committee requests the State party to provide, in its next report, comprehensive information, including disaggregated data on the situation of minority women in Japan, especially with regard to their educational, employment and health status and exposure to violence.

Requests for Collecting Disaggregated Data by Minority Groups

During Committee sessions, experts are not supposed to repeat opinions that others have already raised. Nevertheless, as shown above, requests for the collection of data disaggregated by group were repeated several times. It was not only statistical data that was requested, but also detailed information about the education, health, employment and social wellbeing of these minority women. The vice-chairperson first questioned if such social indicators existed in Japan, and stressed the importance of the State party including such indicators in Japan's future reports. From the above quotations, it is obvious that Committee experts did not lump all related groups of women together by calling them "minority women," but instead specified each distinct group. This has led to the understanding that the "disaggregated data on the situation of minority women in Japan" mentioned in the above observation No. 30 actually refers to data on each specified group, namely Buraku, Ainu, Zainichi Korean, Okinawan and migrant women. In addition, as Ms. Akar touched upon in her final remarks in the session (see above), it is important not to underestimate the impact of age. In our current study, the problems faced by women vary according to age group, as demonstrated by the problem of illiteracy among elderly women, and have resulted in the proposals for specific measures contained in this book.

This point was also mentioned in the CERD recommendations on March 20, 2001, after its consideration of the 1st and 2nd periodic reports prepared by the Japanese government with regard to its implementation of ICERD (the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of the Racial Discrimination). It reads:

22. The Committee recommends that the next State party report contain socio-economic data disaggregated by gender and national and ethnic group and information on measures taken to prevent gender-related racial discrimination, including sexual exploitation and violence.

In light of international human rights standards, the State party was asked and obliged to collect data and statistics regarding minority women. During the session that considered the report, Japanese government representative admitted the government had never conducted such a survey, but expressed the government's willingness to address these particular problems, stating, "We think it necessary to study what problems all women of different positions face, and what measures are needed to address such problems."

However, regardless of how seriously these problems were considered in the international arena, once home, enthusiasm quickly faded. During the CEDAW session, the holding of an informal meeting between the government and minority women was discussed. Back in Japan, however, this meeting was never realized. The government made an excuse saying that they could not meet individually with a particular group. Furthermore, they said they had no intention of conducting a survey to collect such data.

Meanwhile, encouraged by the outcome of the CEDAW consideration of the government's reports, we became more determined to conduct a survey to get this data. The government's attitude spurred us to decide to do it ourselves. The questions in the survey reflect the observations raised by CEDAW in considering the reports.

The Importance of Process - Repeated Preparation Meetings

Before conducting the survey, we studied surveys ourselves and sought to learn what kind of survey we required and how to conduct it to achieve the desired results. In November 2003, we held a Preparation Meeting for the Survey on the Actual Conditions of Minority Women by Minority Women. We invited other women and listened to their experiences conducting surveys regarding battered women and domestic violence. Along with our efforts to create questions to be included in the survey, IMADR-JC collected information for reference on other social surveys already conducted by both the government and the private sector. In the preparatory meetings in February and May of 2004, we discussed the questions more specifically and finalized them. From autumn of 2004 until the beginning of 2005, the three groups of women conducted surveys in their own communities. In March 2005, we organized a meeting to announce the interim report of the survey during the Minority Women Weeks*3. We then organized several conferences to analyze the outcomes of the survey until 2006, when each group involved held their own meetings on the survey. In March 2007, also during the Minority Women Weeks, a major joint meeting to share the results of the survey was organized by the three groups involving many people including researchers who have long been involved in the women's movement. These efforts bore fruit in the form of the publishing of this book. It should be noted that during the past four years from November 2003, the women involved have all dedicated their efforts towards common goals.

<to be continued>

*3 The period between March 8 (International Women's Day) and March 21 (the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) forms the Minority Women Weeks, which we established to highlight the cross-points of gender and racial discrimination. Its formal name is the Weeks for the Elimination of Multiple Discrimination Against Minority Women.

The book was published by IMADR-Japan Committee in October 2007. Available in Japanese, 280 pages

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