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Editorial: Japan urgently needs to replace out-of-touch law to support struggling women

Multipartisan lawmakers in Japan are working toward creating new legislation to support struggling women including those being abused by their spouses, sexual violence victims and women in poverty. The current public aid system is based on the Anti-Prostitution Act of 1956, and is out of touch with reality. It needs an urgent update.

    The current support system was established to "protect and rehabilitate girls at risk of being involved in prostitution." Under the law, each prefectural government is required to set up a consultation center and temporary care home for women. The scope of the law has since been expanded to cover victims of domestic violence, stalking and women struggling financially.

    However, the law is unable to respond to a diverse range of issues and assistance is not reaching those who need it.

    The first problem with the existing law is that it focuses on the protection aspect and doesn't deal with helping women become independent. Relevant individuals and groups have been demanding improvement for quite some time.

    It's also been pointed out that, due to prejudice against and contempt for prostitution, there is no sufficient assistance framework. And there are support measure gaps between different local governments.

    The objective of the legislation in the works is to establish a support system that is not based on the anti-prostitution law, and to expand aid. The existing ways of handling the matter must be completely transformed.

    The outline compiled by the lawmakers specifies respecting human rights and gender equality, and holds the law's basic principle is to provide tailored, seamless care. It also calls on the national government to establish a basic support measure policy and requires prefectural governments to create plans based on the policy.

    The new legislation is also distinguished by its emphasis on cooperation with private organizations. It calls for setting up committees to realize this end. There is only so much that can be done just by administrative efforts. Private organizations have heretofore been the main actors in providing safe havens for troubled women, including consultation services as well as shelters and housing.

    It is essential to support these activities with public funds. Private support groups will need to share their knowledge accumulated over years in the field, and role-sharing is also necessary between the private and public sectors.

    The women who would be protected under the law are diverse: young women, single mothers, the elderly, those with disabilities and foreigners, among others. A framework which enables finely tuned care is required. It's also crucial to educate and train workers with expert knowledge.

    The coronavirus crisis has put women's struggles into sharp relief. A new law would be the first step in building a system for society as a whole to support struggling women.

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