Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Visit to the Dawn Center and a Focus on Gender Equality

We have met so many amazing leaders throughout our first ten days in Osaka. On Tuesday, it was our distinguished pleasure to meet leaders of the Dawn Center. The Dawn Center is a women's center where each year more than 300,000 women receive a multitude of services and information. Among those with whom we had an engaging discussion was Mr. Tokioka, the chair person of the Gender Equality Foundation.

The foundation has four core purposes:
1. distribute information
2. offer programs and counseling on issues affecting women
3. provide consultation and training programs related to gender equality
4. provide space for lectures/ meetings to groups

Like U.S. non-profit organizations, the Dawn Center is challenged to achieve its goals without sufficient funding, due to an 80% decline in government funding since 2010. Yet the Dawn Center is an essential resource for women in Osaka prefecture. One surprise, recognizing the pride of the Japanese people, is that Mr. Tokioka addressed Japan's Gender Gap Index (GGI) rating, according to the World Economic Forum. Japan is ranked 101 out of 135 countries (Pakistan is ranked 134, followed by Yemen at 135). To contrast this disparity, the U.S. ranked 22. When asked how the Japanese reacted to the GGI result, Mr. Tokioka shared,"Japanese gov't recognizes the situation and would like to increase the number of women working through 2030. But we need to focus more on the purpose, rather than the numbers".

Some of the reasons Mr. Tokioka cited for Japan's gender gap include:
1. Women are not working in an economic forum.
2. Since the Dec. 2012 election, the number of women in gov't (the house) dropped from 11% to 7.9%.
3. There is a 30% gap in wages between men & women. Women have not only a "glass ceiling" but "a glass cliff."
4. Gender issues are complicated due to history and social roles.
He expressed, "The role of Dawn Center is to heighten the awareness and improve the situation."

What makes gender inequality so ironic is that after the Pacific War (WWII) the U.S. worked with Japan to revise its constitution to include "gender equality" verbiage. It appears that the U.S. could do a better job to "model the way" for Japan. The staff at Dawn Center spoke highly of Mrs. Gordon who was influential in promoting the rights of Japanese women. They mentioned that although she recently passed away, she was an advocate throughout her entire life. No one in our program was familiar with Mrs. Gordon. The following link provides more information about her life.

Our visit concluded with a visit to Dawn Center's library led by Ms. Kinoshita, the head librarian. Her passion for women's rights and lifetime learning echoed the core of MAOL values. The visit served as a strong reminder for each of us to advocate for social justice.

--Anne Louise Liska

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