Japan study: A third of working women were sexually harassed

TOKYO – A Japanese government study has found nearly a third of working women who responded to a survey reported being sexually harassed on the job, such as being subjected to unwanted physical contact or degrading comments.

The study, released Tuesday and the first of its kind, examined responses from more than 9,600 women employees, submitted by mail or online. The response rate was 18 per cent. It did not give a margin of error.

Of the respondents, 29 per cent said they had suffered sexual harassment. The most common type of harassment was having their appearance or age become the focus of conversation, at 54 per cent.

The next most common was unwanted touching at 40 per cent, followed by sexually related questions at 38 per cent. Twenty-seven per cent were asked out for meals and dates.

Japan trails much of the world in achieving gender equality, ranking 101st among 145 nations and economies in the World Economic Forum’s study on the “gender gap,” which measures how fairly women are treated based on economic, educational, health-based and political indicators.

Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made encouraging women to work and get promoted one of the pillars of his policies, progress has been gradual.

One big reason behind that effort is that this nation’s society is aging and the workforce is rapidly shrinking. Women now make up for about 8 per cent of leadership positions in companies hiring 100 people or more.

Tuesday’s study did not propose any specific measures for how the situation could be fixed, such as stiffer penalties for harassment or discrimination.

In many Japanese companies, women are placed on a different career track from men. They often have part-time jobs, partly because many Japanese men rarely help out with housework.

The so-called “M-curve” in employment that used to be so pronounced in the West for women some years ago, in which they drop out of the workforce to have children then rejoin later, is still prominent in Japan.

The study also found many complaints of “maternity harassment,” in which women were bullied into quitting their jobs when they became pregnant, or were targeted with suggestions they do so.


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