New Law Passed for “Women in Need Support Act” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

New Law Passed for “Women in Need Support Act”

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A scene of street life seen in a park in Tokyo. Will the new law be able to provide adequate support for women forced to live this way?Until now, impoverished women have been branded as “dropouts” and subjected to protection and rehabilitation on the grounds that it is their own responsibility to have fallen into hardship and difficulties in their lives. However, for the first time in the current Diet session, a new law, the “Law on Support for Women with Difficulties” (hereinafter referred to as the “New Law” ), was passed with the aim of restoring the human rights of women and promoting their welfare. 

Until now, local governments have provided women’s protection services based on the Anti-Prostitution Law enacted in 1956. But this law was under pressure to be revised as it did not meet the diverse needs of young women in particular.

House of Councilors member Mizuho Fukushima, who participated in various consultation meetings at the Corona Disaster and at the same time conducted hearings with support groups, welcomes the passage of the new law.

“The removal of the discriminatory viewpoint that women themselves are the problem, and the treatment of women who have been victims of sexual exploitation and sexual violence as perpetrators, is groundbreaking.”

◆Differences between the Anti-Prostitution Law and the new law

The purpose of the Anti-Prostitution Law is to prevent prostitution by guiding and punishing girls who are likely to engage in prostitution and by protecting and rehabilitating them. It also provides for imprisonment or a fine for soliciting prostitution (Article 5) or for guiding and confining them (Article 1 (Article 7).

The new law is highly anticipated because it abolishes the provisions of the Trafficking Prevention Law (Articles 17, 18, and 22), which were intended to subject women to remedial punishment and incarceration, and for the first time explicitly guarantees women’s rights.

Article 2 defines “women with difficulties” as “women (including women who are at risk of becoming so) who have difficulties in smoothly leading their daily or social lives due to sexual victimization, family situation, relationship with the community, or various other circumstances. Article 3 also clearly states the restoration of physical and mental health and seamless support, as well as the realization of gender equality, as its basic principles.

Women’s support groups, researchers, and other concerned parties have widely welcomed the passage of the new law as a major step forward. On the other hand, the Corona Disaster once again highlighted the fact that there are cultural, social, economic, and institutional factors behind women’s difficulties that cannot be resolved by law alone.

It is not easy for women to realize that they are having difficulties, especially when they are expected to take care of others, and when they themselves unknowingly put the needs of their parents, children, and husbands first. It is sometimes difficult for women who are expected to be “discreet” to discuss their problems and concerns.

◆Resolving Violence

For example, Sachiko (in her 30s, pseudonym), who was abused by her parents and was forced to live a life of constant character denial and abuse, reveals, “Since I was a child, I have not been kind to a single millimeter of my body.

“I have never been treated kindly, not even a millimeter, since I was a little girl. But when I see or hear about child abuse in news reports, I feel it is disrespectful to compare myself with people who have suffered worse than I have. In my mind, I think I have been hurt badly enough to have my life destroyed, but not violated to the point of being life-threatening, with just a few bumps and bruises.”

The thought that there are others who are in a more difficult situation than she is stops her from discussing her problems and concerns with them. This is accompanied by the sense of self-blame that survivors of sexual violence and abuse always feel.

Sachiko continues, 

Looking back now, I regret why I did not leave home sooner. If I had been able to escape from home, I would have led a different life. I was too weak.”

Childhood abuse and violence, including sexual violence, is estimated to affect one in three women worldwide, and one in four women in Japan, if limited to domestic violence, will be a victim more than once. In Japan, it is estimated that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence more than once. In addition to the physical damage caused, the mental and psychological trauma causes many problems.

Women who have survived repeated violence often lose self-esteem and self-confidence. Because they “lack interpersonal skills” and “have difficulty building relationships,” women tend to isolate themselves, often unable to hold down a job or sustain a living.

In the background, violence casts a shadow. The Women’s Assistance Law stipulates that medical and psychological assistance be provided to restore physical and mental health, but what is also important is a culture and education that eliminates violence and does not create perpetrators.

Since the Anti-Prostitution Law was enacted in 1956, the women’s protection program has not been reviewed (Photo: Kyodo News)

◆Information outreach

Women with difficulties often say that they do not know where to turn for help or what to do when they are at a loss in their lives. Ms. Fuyutsuki (40s, pseudonym), who has been yelled at and repeatedly beaten and kicked by her mother on a daily basis since elementary school, as well as verbally abused by her mother, who told her, “You can’t do anything.

I wanted to get help, but I didn’t know where to go. It is these adults who have that information. They knew there was a child guidance center, but they didn’t know where it was, and there were no cell phones back then. Even if I wanted to call from a pay phone, I didn’t have the money to make the call. We didn’t have the opportunity to be told what to do when we had problems in our lives.”

Some generations put their trust in information from “acquaintances” and influencers they connect with on social networking services (SNS), often turning to the Internet and SNS rather than to the authorities when in need.

For example, Hiroko (50s, pseudonym ), who began living on the street after fleeing violence by her parents and does not even own a cell phone for fear of privacy leaks, relies exclusively on the printed word. Information literacy is limited regardless of age. The new law calls for “support in cooperation with private organizations” (Article 13) and specifies the use of the Internet for notification, but even here, detailed measures are required.

◆Rights Education and Guarantees

Mr. Fuyutsuki, mentioned above, said that around November 2020, when the corona infection began to spread, his daily employment as a registered dispatched worker was depleted early on, so he first He decided to apply for public assistance in order to prioritize stabilizing his livelihood. Nevertheless, for several months, he repeatedly said, “I still hate it.

All deposits and withdrawals are supervised by the government. Since the choices of available medical facilities are limited, he may not be able to continue seeing the hospitals and clinics he had been visiting. It can only be described as inconvenient.

If anything, they threaten us by citing the term “unfair benefits. If it were possible, I would like to discontinue the use of this service right away.

In the case of the Corona disaster, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) for the first time actively encouraged people to apply for the welfare system on the Internet and in other places, saying, “The welfare system is a right of the people. However, the impact of the long-standing waterfront operation to discourage people from applying under the guise of curbing welfare spending and preventing unfair benefits receipt remains strong.

House of Councilors member Mizuho Fukushima has high hopes for the new law (Photo: Kyodo News)

Even at the stage where they have only a few thousand or a few hundred yen in their pocket, there are no small number of people who continue to refuse to apply because they feel guilty about being told that they are “wasting taxpayers’ money” by using the system, or because they are prejudiced that they have “fallen as far as they can fall.

In the background is the belief that “as long as I have a job, I can get by. For some people, working is “an important activity that also leads to self-esteem,” and the employment support provided by the Women’s Assistance Act is indispensable for women to become self-reliant. However, even here, unless the wage gap and the concentration of non-regular employment among women are corrected, it will not lead to a fundamental solution.

◆Improvement of treatment of female counselors

If women facing difficulties overcome hurdles and are connected to the right places, women’s consultation support workers (renamed from women’s counselors) with specialized knowledge and experience are supposed to help them. However, the reality is that after a certain period of time, these women who provide support to women facing difficulties are now on the receiving end of support. The current system of appointing women’s consultants requires a major review, since most of them are appointed (hired) at the end of the fiscal year.

The treatment of non-regular public service employees has been widely pointed out as a social problem. The fixed-term employment system, in which contracts are terminated at the end of the fiscal year, makes it difficult for counselors to develop and accumulate the expertise, knowledge, and experience necessary to provide support to women. In fact, it has been confirmed that several women with fiscal year appointments who work in unstable and challenging workplaces attended the consultation sessions held at the Corona Disaster.

Emergency Questionnaire for Public Service Irregular Workers, conducted online for one year from April 2019 (valid responses). 1252 responses, conducted by Hamnet) received exactly these comments from the field.

The survey revealed the following: “The people we are supporting could be on the receiving end at any moment. It is very difficult to provide good support in such an unstable situation where tomorrow is your own day.

If both the person providing the counseling and the person receiving it are working in such a way that they cannot foresee their future, it is impossible for women to become self-reliant.

Even if a new law is enacted, it will not be effective unless it has a soul.”

In April, at a meeting of the House of Councilors’ Health, Labor, and Welfare Committee, Councilor Fukushima made this point. The question now is how the government and local governments will implement the new law.

  • Interview and text Chie Matsumoto

    Chie Matsumoto is a journalist. She mainly covers issues related to social justice, including human rights and labor. She is co-author of "Mass Media Sexual Harassment White Paper" (Bungeishunju) and "Manga de Wakaru Black Company" (Godo Shuppan), and co-translator of "Striking China" (Sairyusha), which will be published in January 2021. Co-translation of "The Power of Change to Move the World: A Message from the Co-Chairman of Black Lives Matter" (Akashi Shoten) will be published in January 2021.

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