On Saturday, July 22, 2017, a lecture presentation by Chizuko Ueno was held in the city of Niigata, entitled “The Future Path of Women’s Lives – Neoliberal Reform and Gender –“. This was held commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Niigata Branch of the Japanese Association of University Women (JAUW) of which I am the branch chief. JAUW, founded in Tokyo soon after the Second World War, has since worked for advancement of Japanese women striving to mainly promote higher education for girls. The Niigata Branch is one of its 25 branches nation-wide and as we marked the 70th anniversary, we planned this lecture presentation for the purpose of thinking about the lives of Japanese women in the past and in the future. This lecture presentation received the aid of group activity support from the Niigata Prefectural Women’s Foundation.

 Chizuko Ueno, a pioneer of gender studies, spoke from interesting perspectives based on statistics, filled with humor, enabling difficult contents to be easier for us to understand and leaving strong impression and inspiration to each one of over 200 attendants who packed the venue. That included many fans of hers who is also one of popular advice columnists for the Asahi Shimbun’s “Nayami-no-rutsubo (the crucible of troubles)”.

 As she began, she said, “Recently, I have been requested to lecture more about healthcare-related matters, which makes me feel nice and kind. Gender-related subjects make me angry as I speak, so I’m afraid I may become “threatening.” The subject of this lecture was exactly what I love to talk about regarding gender so I was happy to accept the offer.” This heightened our expectation. Here are some points that impressed me during the lecture.

 It’s been 70 years since suffrage was won by Japanese women who are now being held responsible for current politics. Neoliberal reform promoted by the government also enlarges a gap between women, dividing them into a winner and a loser. As a countermeasure against it, the percentage of girls who go to four-year universities drastically increased and the ratio of girls who go to four-year universities surpassed that of those who go to two-year colleges in the mid-1990s.Investments in education are usually expected to be recovered, but once a girl marries into someone’s family, her parents are unable to recover the funds. Girls tended to major in fields extremely difficult to lead to a career (such as literature and home economics) and were more into the marriage market rather than the labor market.

 Women now take it as a matter of course that they give birth to and raise children while they are working. Nearly 90% of women take childcare leaves, but childcare doesn’t end in a year. Then, they are called to be out of the club’s plan, being stuck toward the mommy track, an inevitable course for employees with children. Motivated and talented women leave workplace. There is a prescription, though. The root cause of the problem is the conventional Japanese custom of employment. Long working hours and promotion by seniority should be eliminated. Same pay should be paid for same labor. The current government and companies have no willingness to do this. Companies from now on must incorporate diversity in order to survive competition. Companies incapable of utilizing women have no future. Soon or later, they will sink just like a ship made of mud.

 Even an elite woman slips down to the weaker side of society as soon as she has a child. Someone always looks after us when we are born and pass away. Whereas we are all dependent, women have always been taking care of the weaker side, but it is not for surviving competition. Why don’t we create a society that is nice to the weak? A society where the weak can remain weak. A society where girls can be heroes of their own lives. We must create a society which welcomes the youth who are always beside the weak. Let’s build women’s network to create a society which makes our lives easier as much as possible through information, wisdom and connection.

Examples of responses we received for post-lecture survey are: “I enjoyed Chizuko Ueno’s talk so much.” “It’s been a long time since when I was inspired this much.” “She gave all of us, women, energy.” We had some student attendants, but I wish more young attendants were there to listen to her speech. (Reiko Takahashi, Niigata)