Japan’s population structure can be characterized as a vase-shape, caused by low birth rates and increased life expectancy. This population structure that is common in many developed countries has its limitations- a labor shortage. To tackle this problem, the Japanese government has made efforts to meet this increasing need for more labor. The primary focus was to achieve increased female participation in the workforce. These laws hope to fulfill the two-fold purpose of resolving gender inequality problems and increasing labor supply.
In 1986 Japan first introduced the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL.) The law stipulated that women should receive similar working opportunities as men particularly in the processes of recruiting, hiring, placement and promotion. (http://wgordon.web.wesleyan.edu/papers/eeol.htm) This was the first law that aimed to achieve equal conditions for women in all aspects of working opportunities.
Shortly after the EEOL was passed, another law was passed in 1992, known as the Childcare Leave Law. The Childcare Leave Law detailed the opportunity either part of the child one year’s leave without pay, while ensuring they can return to the same job and the same position. Furthermore, the law encouraged the male parent to take the leave so that women could also work while receiving childcare. (http://www.mhlw.go.jp/seisakunitsuite/bunya/kodomo/shokuba_kosodate/jigyou_ryouritsu/ryouritu.html)
Yet while these two laws were ideal in ameliorating the gender issues in Japan, they failed to have a noticeable effect. Women surprisingly did not respond very well to the EEOL that promised equal treatment of genders, fearing that lifetime employment would preclude them from accomplishing traditional female obligations of being a good wife and mother. Once again, traditional values overpowered the efforts to achieve gender equality. The response to the Childcare Leave Law was similar. In this case men were unwilling to take up the leave, not wanting to hurt their masculinity by not working for a year. Overall, the two laws were not successful because the traditional ideas about family gender roles did not agree with the modern ideas about gender equality.
The seemingly uncompromising traditional values about women and men that prevent female empowerment in the workplace are due partly to the conservative ideas about family gender roles. Although legislatively matters can be handled and changed, it is on the societal level that these ideas must be altered and rethought. Until both women and men are ready to abandon their traditional ideas about their gender roles in society, increasing female participation in the workforce will remain a challenge.