Publication Details

Rawstron, K. 2010, 'Equality vs difference: a case study of Japanese media representations of gender-specific provisions in labour legislation', in E. Morrell & M. Barr (eds), Crises and opportunities: Proceedings of the 18th biennial conference of the ASAA, Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) Inc and the University of Adelaide., Canberra, pp. 1-13.


This paper examines the portrayal of gender issues in the Japanese media. It will do so through a case study of discussions in mainstream newspapers surrounding the removal of the gender-specific provisions (or ‘women’s protection articles’, hereafter WPA) of the Labour Standards Law. The discussions touch on debates concerning ‘equality’ and ‘difference’ and debates concerning the role of legislation in promoting social change. After a summary of relevant legislation, the arguments surrounding the 1997 removal (effective 1999) of the WPA is examined using items from 1982 to 2005 in the Asahi Shimbun, the Mainichi Shimbun, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun. All four newspapers supported the removal of the WPA to varying extents, arguing that (except for those regarding pregnancy) the WPA were restrictive and should be removed to improve sex-based workplace equality. To use Susan Atkins’ (1986) phrase, they feared that women’s conditions were being “equalised down” rather than men’s being “equalised up” and predicted that the removal would not increase equality in the Japanese workplace. This article concludes with a discussion on recent labour statistics in order to determine whether there has been any improvement in women’s working conditions in the years since this debate.

Link to publisher version (URL)

ASAA 2010