Missing in Action: Structural Gender Analysis in Societal Responses to Domestic Violence in Japan

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Mieko YOSHIHAMA, University of Michigan, USA
Recognition of a phenomenon as a social problem is a necessary precursor for the development of social policy and programs to address it. In Japan, domestic violence was neither recognized nor addressed prior to 1990’s. It was a feminist action research effort that named the previously unaddressed problem of domestic violence in Japan in early 1990’s. Collective grassroots organizing, action research, and advocacy efforts, aided by the international currents, such as the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, promoted the previously reluctant government to address domestic violence.

The enactment of the Spousal Violence Prevention Act in 2001 symbolizes a societal and governmental recognition of the problem, yet at the same time it represented a shift in the definition from a socially-rooted problem of patriarchal violence against women to an individual/interpersonal level problem of spousal violence. Consequently, the available social programs center on temporary assistance to abused spouses with virtually no measure to address structural gender inequity or patriarchal social norms. After a considerable decline from the late 1970’s to 2000’s, the proportion of adults who endorse gendered division of labor has been a rise over the last decade. Structural barriers to women’s gainful employment remain strong, including gender wage gap, the lack of affordable child care, sexual harassment, as well as the taxation and social security systems that provide substantial financial incentives for one spouse (usually the wife) to earn less than a certain threshold.

By analyzing the ways in which domestic violence was defined first by the feminist activists and researchers and how it is being redefined in the legislative and political processes, this paper examines the current lack of structural gender analysis in the societal responses to domestic violence and its relationship to the larger socio-political-historical factors in present Japan.