“Evidence-based labour activities for gender equality and the rights to gender and reproductive health”, by Yoshiko Norimatsu.

The Japan Teachers’ Union contributes to achieving gender-related rights through its programmes and policies focused on the rights of female educators. A recent JTU research, for example, has shown how terms of employment are interlinked with reproductive health and childcare challenges.

Gender equality and labour rights

The Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU) has pursued gender equality and labour rights for women since its establishment and succeeded in introducing childcare leave in Japan in 1975. JTU holds an ‘Education Research Conference for Gender Equality’ annually to share information and challenges of gender equality and the improvement of working environments for all. Recently, we have become more aware of the fact that teachers also need to ensure that there are safe and comfortable schools for LGBTIQ teachers and children as important aspect of this domain.

JTU implements a survey on schemes and systems of rights on gender and reproductive health annually and gathers the replies from local affiliated unions. Last year, JTU had the opportunity to gather information on these issues directly from our members. It is necessary to improve the schemes and systems, but at the same time it is more meaningful if our members can exercise them whenever they need. The web survey was open from August to November 2017 and 22.724 responses were received from our members (14.328 of which were women). 

JTU Research on the Exercise of Gender and Reproductive Health Rights: needs and reality

Many teachers do not make use of their rights.

The survey revealed that about half of the female respondents (53.1%) answered that they had a pregnancy related disorder. What was surprising though, is that more than 20% of those who would have needed to exercise their right to maternity disorder leave and go to an obstetrics hospital did not make use of it because they didn’t want to give colleagues more work (PISA findings showed that Japanese teachers work the longest among the OECD countries).

Public school educators have the possibility to ease commuting difficulties during pregnancy and shorten working hours to avoid traffic jams or crowded trains and subways. But more than 30% did not exercise them because they hesitated as it’s not easy to find substitute teachers to cover their work or principals didn’t allow it. This means that the measures lack effectiveness. 40.7% believe that such working environments influenced maternity and childbirth. It was also found out that only 10.6% of non-regular (precarious, part-time or non-permanent) educators took maternity leave because it’s even more difficult to find substitutes. It means that non-regular teachers cannot exercise the rights when they need them as they are in vulnerable positions, often with poor working environments.

Those results can be used to evaluate gender equality. The gender index of Japan is 114th and this survey underlines that figure. Among men, 27,9 % of respondents took leave for participation in childcare (maximum 5 off days with pay), 10.3% took childcare leave (non-paid leave they can exercise until the child becomes 3 years old) and 52.1 % took leave for spouse childbirth. The numbers seem to be low, but these are higher than other professions in Japan. For example, 1.95% of male workers of manufacturing industry took childcare leave, 2.24% of ICT industry and 0.14% of real estate business.

Evidence and labour activities

JTU has succeeded in promoting rights but they need to be exercised by those who need them. Not only the results of this research but also of last year’s JTU survey ‘Reality of Workload and Working Hours of Teachers in Japan’ showed how difficult it is for educators to exercise those rights because they have non-supportive or difficult working environments. Those results and social dialogue pushed the Ministry of Education to consider measures to improve the situation, including issuing a notification to encourage principals to ensure those rights for educators as regulated by laws or ordinances. Also, the JTU succeeded in gaining better working conditions for non-regular educators including an insurance system and changed the Local Public Employees Law to increase the security of their status.

The JTU offered detailed results of our research to our affiliated unions. As educators at public schools are employees of prefectures or special cities, it is necessary that JTU affiliated unions negotiate and gain improvement of working conditions from those bodies so that their rights can be exercised. In fact, the unions have gradually achieved greater protection of rights with support from citizens who recognized the results and understood the reality of educators.

JTU will continue to gather evidence from our members and improve working conditions for educators, which will also contribute to quality education. 


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Yoshiko Norimatsu

Yoshiko taught her students about human rights, peace and mutual understanding as an English high school teacher. She is Vice President of Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU) and has pursued these ideals to ensure quality education for all.

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