Washington International Law Journal


In 1985, Japan ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW"), which requires the eradication of all legal, political, social and cultural structures that prevent women from enjoying full equality with men. Under CEDAW, Japan is legally obligated to strive for actual, not just formal, equality between men and women. CEDAW also requires States Parties to take positive action to achieve gender equality. Despite the Japanese government's apparent efforts to comply with CEDAW over the last two decades, gender equality remains a distant reality. On July 8, 2003, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women reviewed Japan's compliance with CEDAW and concluded that gender equality is being achieved at a glacial pace in Japanese society. Japan's failure to achieve a gender equal society is largely the result of the Japanese government's rule by consensus. Under this system, social beliefs and practices dictate political action, and the government will not affirmatively act to change society in the absence of a social or political consensus. Effectively, Japanese leaders wait for social change to occur, and then adjust the law to conform to the new majority belief. Given that CEDAW's vision of gender equality does not have widespread support among Japanese, the government's approach to implementing CEDAW has been gradual, compromising and incomplete. While Japan's efforts to comply with CEDAW have nearly attained formal gender equality under the law, on a practical level, the status quo has been almost entirely preserved. Rather than waiting for revolution, the government should take affirmative measures to transform Japan into a gender equal society. To do so while still maintaining its rule by consensus, the government needs to build a consensus that will support gender equality in Japan.

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