Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Gender Gap in Religious Perspectives (World’s Trend and Japan’s Path)
UENO Kagefumi  / Civilizational Thinker

July 15, 2021
According to “the Global Gender Index 2021” reported in late March by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Japan was ranked 120th within 156 countries.
At the root of the problems presented by the WEF, one could detect the tug of war taking place between “the Enlightenment” on one hand, which respects individual’s rights ---- especially women’s rights, and traditional views of women on the other, be they Christian, Islam or Confucian.

●”Traditionalism” vs “the Enlightenment”

I interpret the WEF’s list as comprising four layers of countries, according to the level of the gender gap, as below;

The 1st layer, countries of the smallest gender gap・・・・・・ Nordic and other secular, least religious countries (Group A)

The next layer ・・・・・・ Fairly religious countries in the West and Latin America, including the US (Group B)

The 3rd layer ・・・・・・ the East Asian countries with Confucian traditions (Group C), plus the South East Asian countries with Islamic traditions(Group D)

The 4th layer, countries of the biggest gender gap・・・・・Near and Middle East countries with conservative Islamic traditions such as Saudi Arabia (Group E)

In Group E, in particular, the two genders are even today segregated at religious ceremonies as well as at public education spaces, while in Groups A~C, the level of their gender segregation decades or a century ago was rather similar to today’s Saudi Arabia.

Then, how did Groups A~C depart from the Saudi Arabian path? In short, their traditionalism retreated, under the pressure imposed by the Enlightenment which advocates gender equality. Let me sum up what happened specifically at educational and religious spaces in each Group.

● Educational & religious spaces

In Group A, comprising major actors of the Enlightenment epoch, the gender segregation-barriers were lowered during the course of the 18-19th centuries ----ahead of other Groups. Countries of this Group, traditionally mainly Protestant, are today highly de-christianized, thereby valuing women’s rights while discarding the traditional views of women.

Group B followed a path similar to Group A, though with the delay of half or one century, due to their persistent traditionalism. This Group is composed by a number of Catholic countries plus the US.

Until the mid-20th century, Roman Pontiffs often stressed that gender mingling is undesirable, be that at school or at mass. At Catholic churches of that era, women were seated at the pews of the left side whereas men were seated at the pews of the right side; the two genders were thus separated on opposite sides. Around 1920 to 1930, however, the segregation-barriers at public schools started to be lowered, paving the way for coeducation.

Countries of Group C (Confucian) have a conservative view of women, similar to Catholics. They started to lower the gender segregation-barrier even later than Group B. In fact, in Japan, there are even today some gender-separating events like NHK’s very popular TV program “the Women (Red)-vs-Men (White) Singing Contest”

Countries of Group E (conservative Islam) remain very reluctant to accept the Enlightenment, and hence, even today, their gender segregation-barriers remain solid at educational and religious spaces. Some hardliners like the Taliban continue to make every effort to exclude women from the educational arena.

Countries of Group D (South-eastern Asian Islam) such as Indonesia, who are, unlike Group E, secularized to some extent, accept co-education at public educational systems.

● Gender segregation at politics

As I examined throughout Groups A~C, for the last one to two centuries, the gender segregation-barriers at educational as well as religious spaces were widely lowered, due to the admitted shift of people’s minds. Consequently, the normality of 100-150 years ago has proved obsolete today, except for Group E. Now, let me explore the gender gap of today at political spaces of each Group.

In Group A, women take the helm of governments in Nordics, Germany, New Zealand and so forth. 30 to 50 % of executives at listed corporations in Europe are women.

Even in Group B, previously regarded as conservative, some of them like Ireland and Spain lately have undergone a drastic transformation. Ireland had female presidents for some 20 years. In Spain, the Socialist Labor Party shaped the new government in 2018 where more than half of ministers were female. In 2021, the US came to have the first female Vice-President in its history. In the three countries, by the way, these changes took place when power shifted from the conservative to the liberal.

In Group C, people’s minds also steadily shifted due to generational changes. In Taiwan, they elected the first female president, while they legalized the same sex marriage. The Republic of Korea introduced a gender quota system for parliamentary elections, imposing a quota in favor of female candidates.

Although, in each Group, gender barriers still remain persistent in such arenas as politics, administration, jurisdiction, business and various professions, pressures stemming from the Enlightenment are rising.

● Whereto is Japan moving?

In Japan, conservatives don’t look quite happy with the enhancement of gender equality, as they retain Confucian, traditional mind-sets. Against this backdrop, is the transformation of Japanese society plausible? A clue may lie in the precedents of Catholics, as Japanese conservatives’ adherence to the particular role of women appears to be somewhat parallel to Catholic conservatism.

As some previously very conservative Catholic countries like Ireland and Spain shifted their stance closer towards the Enlightenment, thereby lowering their gender barriers, similar shifts may well take place in Japan.

In fact, younger politicians of Japan became more aware of the acuteness of the issue of the gender gap. For the last several years, in Japan, various endeavors are being made in arenas such as jurisdiction, administration, legislature, local bodies and businesses, so as to promote paternal child care, de-facto marriage, same sex marriage, LGBT, dualization of married couple’s surnames, introduction of gender quota system for parliamentary elections and so forth.

Unlike the West where confrontational approaches are common, Japanese prefer passivity (i.e. waiting) to crude confrontation, until social environments in favor of compromise (i.e. consensus building) are fermented. It is imperative that they comprehend their rival’s posture in advance and wait for the right circumstances to jell.

In this respect, it is worth noting that the domestic social environments of Japan are, little by little, changing. For instance, the government party started to make studies over some of the aforementioned issues. Can younger politicians capitalize on this new momentum, be they in power or in opposotion? We should watch this with scrupulous attention.

Kagefumi Ueno is former Ambassador to the Holy See. This essay is the shortened, revised version of an essay which first appeared at the online Kyodo-47NEWS site on June 19th 2021.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

上野 景文 / 文明論考察家

2021年 7月 15日




特にE群では、宗教儀礼でも、公教育でも、今日なお、男女は「隔離」されている。 ただ、A~C群でも、数十年から百数十年前までは、男女別々(隔離主義)が基本で、今日のサウジに近かった。













日本の保守派は概して、儒教的、伝統的心性を残しており、男女平等の深化には違和感があるようだ。 日本で変革は進むだろうか。カトリック圏の事例が参考となりそうだ。「女性独自の役割」にこだわる日本の保守派の考え方は、カトリック保守派に通じるものがあるからだ。





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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Gender Gap in Religious Perspectives (World’s Trend and Japan’s Path)