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Is Japan's Kyushu really 'sexist'? Local business federation investigates

This photo shows the plenary session of the Kumamoto Prefectural Assembly, where only two of the 49 members are women, on March 4, 2022. (Mainichi/Yusaku Yoshikawa)

FUKUOKA -- Society in Japan's Kyushu region is often perceived as sexist, male-dominated and misogynistic. A local business group decided to study and quantify these alleged gender attitudes, and the results were not encouraging: Kyushu was third worst among 11 regions in the country. The study also unearthed the dire local repercussions of leaving gender disparity unaddressed.

    "It's amazing that you can do so much work even though you're a mother!" This was one bit of "praise" meted out to a female office worker in her 40s by a coworker after she was transferred to Fukuoka Prefecture from the Kansai region. She was taken aback by the comment. In her mind, she objected, "Is it only women who have to handle child care and housework?" Her mental monologue added, "This is real male chauvinism." Since then, she has been bothered by the "superiority" of the men she encounters at work.

    A 2015 awareness survey conducted by the Cabinet Office asked respondents about their "ideal family," and the prefecture with the highest percentage of men who answered "the husband works while the wife keeps the home" was Fukuoka, at 51.9%

    Meanwhile, social media is flooded with women's complaints about "Kyushu men" for doing no housework or child care, and being negative about women working. In 2016, the hashtag "#Kyushu de Josei-toshite Ikirukoto" (living as a woman in Kyushu) trended on Twitter.

    In 2021, the Kyushu Economic Federation, an association of about 1,000 companies in Kyushu, launched a study to quantify the gender gap. They referred to the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index, which ranked Japan 120th out of 156 countries.

    Dividing the country into 11 regions, the federation quantified 15 items in four areas: economy, education, health, and politics. When the overall results are shown on an index of 0 to 1 (the closer to 0, the greater the gender gap), Kyushu came out at 0.648, the third-largest gap. Conversely, the smallest disparity was 0.671, in Okinawa, followed by 0.661 in the southern Kanto region, which includes Tokyo.

    Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) human resources director Yoshiyuki Haramaki, who chaired the group that worked out the data, recalled, "'I knew it' was the impression of the members." He added, "If there's a disparity, it may affect the hiring of talented women. We hope that companies in Kyushu will consider measures to eliminate the gap."

    According to the federation's calculations, the gender gap is larger in Hokkaido at 0.636 and in the Tokai region at 0.643, indicating that the problem is not limited to the southernmost of Japan's main islands.

    Machiko Ito, professor emeritus of gender theory at Tohoku University of Community Service and Science, commented, "It can be seen as a disparity between Tokyo and other regions. Especially areas with large gender gaps in politics have a stronger sense of not letting women make decisions."

    People cross an intersection in front of JR Hakata Station in Fukuoka's Hakata Ward on June 10, 2021. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)

    What happens to a region if the local gender gap is left unaddressed? Kanako Amano, a senior demographics researcher at NLI Research Institute, analyzed the flow of people moving into and out of urban areas, centering on Tokyo and rural areas, and pointed out that "the larger the gender gap, the greater the outflow of young women from the region."

    Tracking the movement of people in and out of each prefecture based on the Basic Resident Registration System, the net number of new female residents has surpassed male move-ins since 2009 in Tokyo, where newcomers continue to exceed those leaving. This shows that Tokyo is attracting women from all over the country.

    On the contrary, Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kyushu, and northern Kanto stand out as regions with a far higher ratio of women leaving than arriving. In Hokkaido, women accounted for about 90% of net population outflow from 2019 to 2021. All these regions were on the federation's list of worst gender disparity gaps.

    Amano predicted, "Currently, companies and diverse occupations where women can work comfortably are overwhelmingly located in Tokyo, and the outflow of women from rural areas will accelerate."

    She then warned, "The number of children in a region depends on the number of women, and the Tokyo area currently has a high birthrate, while birthrates decline in rural areas is accelerating. Neglecting gender disparity will lead to local populations and cultures disappearing."

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Hisano, Kyushu Business News Department)

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