|Mariko Mitsui, a renowned Japanese
womenfs rights activist and journalist was the founding director of
STEP, a city-sponsored Gender Equality Center in Toyonaka City, which
is in Osaka, the second-largest metropolitan region in Japan. She
was dismissed from her position as a result of intense backlash from
a far right-wing political group and far right-wing politicians. To
appeal this injustice to society and to win an order for compensation,
Mitsui filed a lawsuit against the city in the Osaka District court
on December 17, 2004. Seven women lawyers based in the Osaka region
have formed a strong team for the plaintiff.
In order to support this highly significant trial for womenfs rights
in Japan and against right-wing intimidation, we formed an organization,
gFight Back,h to support the plaintiff, Mitsui, and to fight this
backlash against gender equality. Since the Gender Equality Law
was enacted in 1999, local municipalities have been expected to
make gender equality ordinances, gender equality action plans and
gender equality centers. STEP was created as a result of this law.
Many right-wing groups are opposed to this law and are fighting
both to overturn it and to prevent its enactment. In addition, they
are even fighting to overturn the items in the Japanese constitution
that guarantee Japanese women equal status with men under the law.
Founding Director selected by nationwide
STEP is a facility established by Toyonaka City to promoting gender
equality, which was planned and developed in cooperation with many
residents of the city who were eager to form a womenfs center. In
this spirit of collaboration, applications for the position of director
of STEP were open to the public, a rare practice in Japan. Mariko
Mitsui was then selected from a field of many candidates, based
on a competitive and rigorous examination and interview process?the
only time a director of a center like this in Japan was so chosen.
After Mitsui assumed the position in the fall of 2000, she worked
on numerous original and ground-breaking projects in order that
gender equality take root and spread in the community. As Director,
she planned and organized very popular events and seminars. Many
guests from foreign countries visited the center, and her events
with foreign visitors were successful and inspired large audiences.
A dynamic organizer, she herself found outside funding for these
events. Her events were often covered by the media, and she was
very visible in the media not only in the Osaka area but all over
Japan. As a result, she received high evaluations and praise not
only from the many women who used the Center, but also from the
Toyonaka City government. But her high profile made her a special
target of right wing politicians in Toyonaka City.
Backlash in Toyonaka City
Persistent attacks against both STEP and Mitsui came to prominence
around the fall of 2002, as the right-wing groups formulated a cohesive
challenge to the gender equity law. While right wing politicians
asked questions attacking gender equality at the city council sessions,
groups associated with them also tried to make it impossible for
STEP to function through enacting a pattern of harassment and intimidation:
certain city politicians asked obstructive questions about STEP
during city council meetings; groups formed of right wing agents
made disruptive visits to STEP, handed out critical flyers in front
of City Hall, posed irrelevant questions to interrupt Mitsuifs lectures,
circulated false rumors about Mitsui, et cetera. The agenda of these
groups is to oppose gender equality and make women subservient to
men socially and legally. Using their nationwide organization, these
forces are attacking city administrations in their legally mandated
efforts to advance gender equality and womenfs empowerment. Such
a phenomenon is a backlash against gender equality, and is increasingly
seen elsewhere in the world today.
Although the city seemed to challenge such backlash efforts at first,
the city administration changed their course and maneuvered Mitsuifs
dismissal in the fall of 2003.
The City wanted the working conditions of STEP to deteriorate
There was another issue. According to the labor regulations of STEP,
contract employees, which included the director, were to have their
contracts automatically renewed barring serious wrongdoings or failure
in the job, even though each contract was for a one-year fixed-term.
Contract employment, also known as temporary or part-time employment
(even though the job may be full-time) is a common practice in Japan,
enabling a more flexible work force by creating a lower tier of
employees whose jobs have fewer benefits and are more vulnerable
to loss. Nationwide, women hold by far the majority of such positions.
In order to circumvent the regulation that employment contracts
were to be automatically renewed, the city proposed a plan that
clearly demonstrated their efforts to disrupt working conditions.
The new plan states: gthe annual contract can be renewed a maximum
of four times.h Almost all of the women at STEP are contract employees;
indeed, all the contract employees there are women. Therefore the
policy was specifically designed to discriminate against women,
who already occupy the most vulnerable segment of the work force.
It was clear that if the city was determined to force the policy,
Mitsui, as the director of STEP, would oppose it. In addition, as
a contract employee herself, her own position would be in peril.
Unfair hiring examination
The city held a special meeting of the STEP Board of Directors on
February 1, 2004, and decided that gthe contract-employee director
position is abolished, and the director position shall become a
full-time, permanent employee position and the director will serve
concurrently as the secretary-generalh in the name of gstrengthening
the organization.h They also decided the next directorfs employment
search would not be publicly advertised, and would be chosen by
a selection committee appointed by the city.
Mitsui applied for the position and had an interview on February
22, and subsequently received a rejection letter. In reality, in
the fall of 2003, the city secretly made a list of possible candidates
to succeed Mitsui, and had already made their hiring decision in
December, 2003, two months before the examination. The job interview
was simply for show.
This is a fight against womenfs discrimination
Toyonaka City gdismissedh Mitsui in a makeshift way in which they
both abolished her contract workerfs position and made it impossible
for her to be anything but rejected for the new non-contract directorfs
position. Although Toyonaka City was legally mandated to improve
the status of women and fight against the backlash against gender
equality, Toyonaka City fired Mitsui, yielding to the backlash.
Mitsui decided to fight back by suing the city and the STEP Foundation
for compensation for damages caused by their not renewing her contract
and rejecting her employment as director without any reasonable
grounds. This trial by Mitsui is a fight against gender discrimination
and unfair treatment of contract employees. It is a trial to counter-attack
the backlash that is gaining in influence and boldness throughout
Join us and support Mariko Mitsui!
Send your protest mail to the Mayor of Toyonaka City:
Send your message to gFight Backh and encourage Mariko Mitsui
c/o Ohno Kyodo Horitsu Jimusho, 2-13-6 Nishi-Temma, Kita-ku, Osaka,