Setting Back the Clock of Equal Rights

Maybe it is the trend these days to set back the clock of progress. The United States’ stance on environmental issues seem to unravel decades of the move forward. Now, the Japanese government is tinkering with Article 24 of their Constitution, which guarantees the equal rights for all in terms of marriage and family. This past June, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party proposed revisions that would strengthen the family and community values at the cost of equal rights.

The following is an Op/Ed article from Asahi Weekly/Asahi Shimbun of the International Herald Tribune, dated November 11, 2004. You can click the title of this particular blog if you would like to go to the site itself. If the link is broken, worry not; the article has been published in its entirety down below:

BACKLASH: Revisionist thinking
By MIEKO TAKENOBU,The Asahi Shimbun

Women’s groups have banded together to fight proposed changes to the Constitution that target their equal rights.

Women’s groups are roaring back at proposed constitutional revisions that target their equal rights.

At issue is Article 24 of the Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for men and women in terms of marriage and family. In June, a group in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party issued a draft document that proposed rewriting the article to focus on the family–especially obligations to support the family–and community values.

A nationwide network of 12 women’s groups has formed to resist the changes. At a news conference held Oct. 29 in Tokyo, women in the network spoke out on the issue.

“Should we return to the days before Article 24 when decisions about women’s educational advancement, work and marriage were all made by the male head of the household?” one participant asked.

Another said, “Any weakening of Article 24, which defines equality within the home, would endanger the domestic violence prevention law, the Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society as well as the insurance program for elderly care.”

Participants included octogenarian Mutsuko Miki, widow of former Prime Minister Takeo Miki, as well as women in their 30s such as Hisako Motoyama, an organizer with nongovernmental organizations.

As written now, Article 24 states: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes, and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.

“With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.”

The proposed revision by the LDP group changes the focus of the article. A draft, posted on the Internet, proposed as a new “public duty” an obligation to support the family. The draft also said “(Article 24) should be reviewed from the standpoint of stressing family and community values.”

LDP members who helped compile the draft say they are surprised at the strong negative reaction. Lower House member Kyoko Nishikawa said the proposal did not mean a return to the traditional Japanese family where the patriarch ruled with an iron fist.

“I think a Constitution that does not have any reference to the home is wrong,” Nishikawa said. “It is necessary to place importance on the home as the foundation. I personally think what should be included is a clause like `the home is the basic unit of society.’ ”

Another member of the team, Yoshitaka Sakurada, said the negative reaction was due to a misunderstanding.

`Should we return to the days … when decisions … were all made by the male head of the household?’

PARTICIPANT Nationwide women’s group network

“It will not do if under civil law a homemaker who cared for elderly parents did not receive an inheritance matching her contribution because of the provisions for equal division of inheritance,” Sakurada said. “The fact that the family is important should be included in the Constitution as a means of confirming that principle. We are not thinking about reviewing the clause about the equality of the sexes.”

However, Hiroshi Nakasatomi, an associate professor of constitutional law at Fukushima University, sees a direct relationship between the focus on the family in the LDP proposal and a review of the clause for equality of the sexes.

The LDP proposal points out that the family and community were destroyed after World War II due to egotism. In order to rebuild family and community values, the LDP proposal includes the provision for “an obligation for supporting the family” as well as a new provision for “protecting the family as the duty of the nation.”

According to Nakasatomi, the unstated precondition of the proposal is that women would be expected to handle the obligation for supporting the family. As a result, a review of the equality of the sexes would come into play because the need would arise for a division of roles according to gender in terms of supporting the family.

One LDP member who is opposed to revising Article 24 is Upper House member Yoichi Masuzoe.

“The objective of constitutional revision is to adjust the Constitution to changes in society, but the proposal on Article 24 moves in the opposite direction,” Masuzoe said. He added that the proposal to revise Article 24 was a political attempt to appeal to conservative voters.

“Since the LDP cannot attract the undecided voter, it tends to depend on the conservative support base from which it can ensure it receives votes,” Masuzoe said.

Another woman who was surprised by the LDP proposal was movie director Tomoko Fujiwara. She finished a documentary this fall about Beate Sirota Gordon, the American woman credited as the creator of Article 24.

“Having lived in Japan for a decade from the time she was five, Gordon proposed Article 24 based on her knowledge of the real status of women,” Fujiwara said. “I wanted to show through the movie that her idea had taken root in Japan.”

Screenings of “A Gift from Beate” are planned in conjunction with efforts to protect Article 24. The film is scheduled to open in Japan next spring.(IHT/Asahi: November 11,2004)

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