Report: Annual Conference of the Women's Studies Association of Japan

Takako NIWA
ICU Post-graduate

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the twelfth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

The annual conference of the Women's Studies Association of Japan was held at Ochanomizu Women's University on June 27th and 28th, 2009. My general impression was that the association was not mired in the 30 years of its history, but was clearly looking ahead to the future. This was evident in the selection of general members for the positions of section meeting supervisors and in the fact that the symposium was held on the last day, not the first day, to sum up the whole conference.

The symposium featured presentations on "Re-examining Poverty and Labor from Gender Perspectives" by Takako KURITA (Freeters Free), Chieko AKAISHI (Single Mothers Forum), and Kazuko TANAKA (Women's Union Tokyo・Working Women's National Center (ACW2)).
Takako Kurita explained that she is now positioned outside the traditional labor framework on two counts because she is a "freeter bachelor" (= a single woman + freeter). Therefore, she could not be a normal worker, or bow down to the mythical maternal ideal of unpaid labor. Her presentation expressed the suffering she experience when treated as insignificant by those who assumed she was going to get married anyway, and how she learned to deal with this and move on with her life.
According to Chieko Akaishi, Japan has the 4th highest single mother employment rate in the world (84.5%) but this includes non-regular employment, and even those who work double or triple jobs have low incomes. She reported that single mothers need various kinds of support in order to survive. Nevertheless, due to the global trend of cutting welfare in the name of job assistance, single mothers are facing an even harsher reality.
The last presentation by Kazuko Tanaka was an account of the future prospects for the study of women's labor and poverty in gender and women's studies in light of how the Women's Studies Association of Japan has undergone various transitions in line with the changing social situation.
Although each presentation was made from a different viewpoint, there was a common keyword, "connectedness", in addition to the fixed themes of examining women's poverty today and presenting new alternatives for women's lives.
Generally, "alignment" and "connectedness" are often indicated as solutions to problems, especially issues concerning women's studies. However, one of the most interesting aspects about this symposium was the fact that all three speakers presented a common perspective: that the awareness of "differences" is what is most important for "connectedness".
This was evident in the title of Kurita's presentation, "Getting Involved with Alternate Women". The word "alternate women" is said to have been derived from the philosophical term of "alterity". Kurita emphasized the importance of accepting the alterity of the diverse people who gather under the word "woman", and of experiencing different "alternatives" even when being a woman. Thus, she did not describe "connectedness" as an ideal, but as something that prompts us to reconsider the assumptions that allow the "connectedness" itself to live on.
There is a tendency for people to lean toward a common denominator, in this case the term "woman". Surprisingly, even when it is evident that all women are different from each other on an individual level, it is not clearly recognized. This is not only something that happens among "women". The dependence on common denominators gives rise to antagonism and rejection of others for their minor differences, and may trigger a vicious cycle of unity and separation.
I am different from others, and others are different from me. Even when there are commonalities between us, it does not mean that we have everything else in common as well. Questioning what we can do by continually re-confirming this unchanging fact is our first step to "connectedness", and at the same time, is the lifeline on which "connectedness" depends.