The 51st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

Takako NIWA
Graduate Student, ICU
【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the eighth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

On April 20, 2007, the Cabinet Office held a hearing on the 51st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (February 26 to March 9, 2007).

The prioritized theme of the session was the abolition of discrimination and violence in any form against girls. It highlighted the fact that the practice of inclusively categorising girls under “juvenile” and “youth” has made them invisible and subjected to neglect and then the discussion moved on to the analysis of the needs particular to girls, and the necessity of building up related statistical data. It is known that in developing countries, girls often have limited opportunites for education as the familial expectations on them to work begin at a much younger age than for boys. It is also known, as pointed out in the session, that the girls easily fall prey to sexual exploitation; for example, with forced marriages at a very early age. However, inequality and violence against girls may not necessarily be confined to developing nations alone.

In Japan, a system of compulsory education has long been institutionalized, and the issue of child labor has been successfully dealt with; yet, double standards persist within the family system as boys are exempted altogether from their share of family chores so they can study, while girls are instructed to finish their chores first before their schoolwork. It is also not unusual to hear people say that it is enviable to have girls because it “exempts parents from worrying over their studies,” whereas boys “require special care and supervision” with regard to their academic achievements. I suspect that the expectations for boys are on their future earnings, made possible by the present education system, while for girls it is the present menial tasks because of their lesser potential to gain strong economic viability in future.

The differing degrees of expectancy towards the future of boys and girls is another expression of the same principle that lies behind the discrimination against girls in developing nations. By overlooking the problem, Japanese society also manifests the same issue of the invisibility of girls’ existence. According to the ILO’s research on child labor, investment in a child’s education yields six times more economic return in future (Yomiuri Shimbun, May 25). Having a child to work and not educate may seem economical in the short term, but is in fact a huge loss in the long term. The findings were based on the examination of general child labor and not specifically that of girls, but it seems quite safe to assume that the relatively low future expectancy for girls may have contributed to national economic loss. This slighting would also place women again in the cycle of low expectancy and low gain.

At the hearing, there was a question from the floor concerning the Japanese government’s policy and its present commitment to the education of girls, but the panellists failed to deliver clear answers. Only one female UN representative gave, as her personal opinion, that in present-day Japan, only the inclusive frame of “child” is applicable, and that the frame of “girl” does not exist. In reality, today’s girls live under different expectations to those for boys. The situation may gradually lead to lower self-esteem and will to live as responsible and independent members of society. The next priority theme of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is “Fund-raising for gender equity and female empowerment,” another important issue pertaining to the situation of girls. Girls are being early deprived of power, and their resultant weaker economic viability leads to further depravity of power. The issue of funding is certainly of great significance in putting an end to this vicious cycle and thereby empower women. There are indeed many challenges awaiting the multi-dimensional actualization of a real economy and in preparing to deal with knowledge-equipped professional economists, but they will certainly be worthwhile.