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Female Students Offered Special Housing Assistance in Japan

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The following is a guest post by Sayuri Umeda, a foreign law specialist covering Japan and several other Asian jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress. Sayuri has previously written blog posts about testing of older drivers in Japan, sentencing of parents who kill children, English translations of post-World War II South Korean laws, laws and regulations passed in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the legal deposit system in Japan.  She has also highlighted our collections related to Japanese family law and Cambodian law. Her most recent post was on the regulation of fugu (pufferfish) in Japan.

Clock Tower, University of Tokyo, Komaba Campus, Tokyo (Photo by Flickr user 305 Seahill; used under Creative Commons license,
Clock Tower, University of Tokyo, Komaba Campus, Tokyo (Photo by Flickr user 305 Seahill; used under Creative Commons license,

Gender differences in the labor market remain significant in Japan.  The country ranked number 111 out of 144 countries on the Gender Gap Index 2016 by the World Economic Forum, down from number 101 in 2015.  This lowered ranking was big news in Japan.  Although nearly as many women go to college as men (56.6%), about 9.3% go to junior colleges.  It is said that higher-ranking schools have fewer female students.  The ratio of female students at national universities is not high: 33.4% of undergraduate students; 23% of masters-level students; and 21.6% of doctoral students.  The difference is especially marked at the University of Tokyo, which is ranked the number one school in Asia by US News & World Report, where the ratio of freshman women has only been around 20%.  The University has set a target ratio of 30% to be achieved by 2020.

To attract female applicants from all over Japan (who live far away from Tokyo), the University of Tokyo announced that it would prepare about 100 apartment units near the campus for new female students and pay 30,000 yen (US$300) per month towards their rent for up to two years.  In Japan, the living arrangements of students are different from the United States where colleges and universities provide dormitories for freshman students.  Most college students in Japan commute from their parents’ house or rent apartments by themselves.  (I rented an apartment when I went to a university in Tokyo.) Dormitories are usually not provided by universities.

At information sessions, parents of possible female applicants to the University of Tokyo expressed concerns about safety issues and the cost of apartments that their daughters would rent if they go to the University.  The announcement also prompted online discussions.  Naturally, some criticize it, claiming that it discriminates against male students.  Others support it.  One explained that when a high school student is smart enough to get into Tokyo University, the parents of a male high school student would try to send him there, while the parents of a female high school student would tend to think that she should not go to Tokyo.  Rather, they would prefer that she go to a local good school and commute from home, so that she will be safe and they can save money.

Article 14 of the Constitution of Japan (1946) guarantees gender equality.  On a private website that posts legal questions and answers by lawyers, a lawyer explains that the Constitution allows special treatment to be granted to people who are in different situations as long as that treatment is reasonable.  He states that equal opportunities among both genders have not been achieved in Japan and this inequality affects female students’ ability to go to good schools, among other things.  Therefore, he argues, special support for female students to expand female students’ opportunities is not against the Constitution.

It will be interesting to see whether the University of Tokyo can increase the number of female students through this initiative.

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