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U.N. committee official criticizes top court ruling on married surnames

The Supreme Court on Dec. 16 ruled that a provision in the Civil Code that forces married couples to use the same surname is constitutional. Yoko Hayashi, a lawyer who serves as chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), has criticized the top court's decision. Below is a summary of her comments:


    The vast majority of countries overseas do not force couples to use the same surname. The Supreme Court's decision is antiquated and lamentable. Its majority opinion treated the concept of equality in an extremely ceremonial way. It said that disadvantages (stemming from the current system) such as loss of identity were alleviated by the spread of the use of common names, but in its decision, it should have taken into consideration the effective inequality that forces them into such (using common names). It is the role of the judiciary to save individuals from human rights violations, but telling the very people who have come seeking relief to find a solution through Diet legislation means it's abandoning that role.

    Of the 15 Supreme Court justices, all three female justices were against finding (the Civil Code provision to be) constitutional -- a fact providing a ray of hope. I felt that an increase in places for women to play an active role in society and regional areas, together with an increase in women's participation in decision-making situations, would have the power to change our society into one with no discrimination.

    The top court's decision finding a remarriage ban on women that exceeds 100 days unconstitutional deserves merit. But rather than just shortening (the remarriage prohibition period), it should be abolished. One is left feeling something is missing.

    The Supreme Court decision does not bring discussion on either of these issues (of separate surnames and a remarriage ban) to an end. In February next year, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will screen a report from Japan. The Japanese government should explain to international society why, in spite of promoting "women's empowerment," it cannot legislate separate surnames.

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