Asia News


Campaigners urge government to ban employers from forcing footwear on female staff

A group of Japanese women have submitted a petition to the government to protest against what they say is a de facto requirement for female staff to wear high heels at work.

The KuToo campaign – a play on words from the Japanese kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain – was launched by the actor and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa and quickly won support online.

Campaigners said wearing high heels was considered to be near-obligatory when job hunting or working at many Japanese companies.

Ishikawa told reporters after meeting labour ministry officials: “Today we submitted a petition calling for the introduction of laws banning employers from forcing women to wear heels as sexual discrimination or harassment.”

The actor explained how a government official had told her she “was a woman and sympathetic to our petition … and told us that this is the first time voices of this kind had reached the ministry”.

“It’s the first step forward,” Ishikawa added.

Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

The case underlines what some experts say is a deep-seated problem with misogyny in Japan. Last year, an MP from Japan’s governing party said women should have multiple children. Women who preferred to remain single would become a burden on the state later in life, added Kanji Kato.

A tweet by Ishikawa earlier this year, complaining about the requirement to wear high heels for a hotel job, went viral, prompting her to launch the campaign.

She said in response to the global anti-sexual-harassment #MeToo movement: “As I realised that so many people face the same problem, I decided to launch the campaign.”

Campaigners said the shoes were akin to modern foot-binding. Others also urged that dress codes such as the near-ubiquitous business suits for men be loosened in the Japanese workplace.

A similar petition against high heels at work was signed by more than 150,000 people in the UK in support of the receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work for wearing flat shoes. She was told to go home by the City accountancy firm PwC on her first day as a temporary receptionist in May 2016 for refusing to wear 2-4in heels.

The case prompted an inquiry on workplace dress codes by a committee of MPs, which highlighted other cases in the UK where women were required to wear heels, even for jobs that included climbing ladders, carrying heavy luggage, carrying food and drink up and down stairs and walking long distances.

However, the government refused to change the law, claiming scope for redress already existed under the Equality Act 2010.

In 2015 the director of the Cannes film festival apologised over women being denied access to the red carpet for not wearing high heels. Cannes kept the dress code, despite a protest by the actor Julia Roberts, who went barefoot the next year.

In 2017, Canada’s British Columbia province banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels, saying the practice was dangerous and discriminatory.

Earlier this year, Norwegian Air was widely criticised for requiring female cabin crew to carry a doctor’s note if they wanted to wear flat shoes. Ingrid Hodnebo, a women’s spokesperson for the country’s Socialist Left party, accused the airline of being stuck in the “Mad Men universe from the 1950s and 60s”.

Source: The Guardian

Misuzu Ikeda becomes first assembly woman in Tarumizu as record numbers of women elected nationwide. Misuzu Ikeda has struck a rare blow for Japanese women in politics by becoming the first female candidate to be elected to the local assembly in the southern city of Tarumizu.

Ikeda hugged supporters on Sunday night when she finished third out of 17 candidates for the 14-seat assembly in Tarumizu, which is officially recognised as a city despite its relatively small population of 15,000. Noting that she was the first assemblywoman in the city’s 61-year history, the former tax office employee promised to work towards a society “where residents feel cared about”, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

The election also marked the first time a female candidate had stood for a Tarumizu seat for 20 years, and the first time two women had run for the legislature. The other candidate, Rieko Takahashi, did not win a seat.

Six women were elected city mayors in Sunday’s nationwide elections – breaking the previous record of four, set in 2015. The number of women elected to city assemblies reached 1,239 – another high – according to the Mainichi Shimbun. Japan, though, still performs poorly in international comparisons of female representation in politics.

Before Sunday’s elections, four out of every five local assembly members nationwide were men, with almost 20% of assemblies having no female councillors at all. That prompted parliament to pass non-binding legislation last year calling on parties to field equal numbers of male and female candidates.

Despite the move, candidate lists, local assemblies and the two houses of parliament are still dominated by men. Many women who run for office encounter resistance from male-dominated party organisations, while a quarter of first-term assemblywomen say they have been sexually harassed by fellow assembly members and constituents.

“What’s behind all this is that Japan is still very much a male-dominated society and has not got used to women who are trying to take leadership roles and speak their minds,” Masae Ido, a former MP, told the Asahi. Only 10% of MPs in Japan’s lower house are women, according to a survey of female representation in national parliaments by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with Japan ranking 165th among 193 countries. Just over 32% of Britain’s House of Commons are women. Only 23.7% of the US Congress are women.

Despite vowing to establish a society in which “women can shine”, the prime minister, Shinzō Abe, appointed just one woman – the regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama – to his cabinet in a reshuffle last October.

Source: The Guardian

South Korea has offered its support for a proposed Asian women’s hockey league involving the two Koreas, China and Japan, officials here said Wednesday. The Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) said its president, Chung Mong-won, met with International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President Rene Fasel over the issue on the sidelines of the IIHF World Championship Division I Group A tournament in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, last week.

During their talks, Fasel told Chung of the IIHF’s plans to start a four-nation Asian league, with clubs from South Korea, North Korea, China and Japan competing against each other. The idea was first broached by China as it prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

According to the KIHA, Chung has agreed to throw his support behind the initiative since the Asian league would also benefit South Korean women’s hockey.

“In terms of the talent pool, South Korea is the weakest link of the four Northeast Asian countries,” the KIHA said in a statement. “There are no women’s hockey teams at any elementary, middle or high schools, and there’s only one semi-pro club. If an Asian league comes into place, it will help improve the competitiveness of our players and raise the interest level in women’s hockey as well.”

In the current world rankings, Japan is the tops among the four at No. 7, followed by South Korea at No. 16, China at No. 20 and North Korea at No. 28. The KIHA said Chung and Fasel agreed to maintain their dialogue on developing hockey in Asia.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

ComfortDelGro Corp and its subsidiaries SBS Transit and Vicom have appointed three women on their boards, raising the group’s combined female board representation to at least 30 per cent – up from around 20 per cent.

Ms Jessica Cheam, Ms Chua Mui Hoong and Ms Tan Poh Hong join a board that has long been male-dominated. ComfortDelGro said the three bring with them “diverse skills sets in the areas of sustainability, political and media relations, and food security and safety”.

They replace two stalwarts who have retired from their respective boards after putting in a combined 32 years of service – Mr David Wong of ComfortDelGro and Mr Wee Siew Kim of SBS Transit. Group chairman Lim Jit Poh said: “We embarked on our board renewal process in 2017 with a clear view to bringing in greater expertise especially in disciplines that are new to the Group. We have also added more female directors as part of our commitment to gender equality.”

Ms Cheam, 36, who joined the ComfortDelGro board on Jan 1 this year, is managing editor of Eco-Business, a sustainability publication. She is an adjunct research associate for the Centre for Liveable Cities, a Singapore think-tank focused on creating and sharing knowledge on liveable and sustainable cities.

Ms Chua, 49, who joined the SBS Transit board on April 26 this year, is opinion editor of The Straits Times.

Ms Tan, 60, who joined the Vicom board a day earlier, was chief executive of Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore from 2009 to 2017.

Last year, the ComfortDelGro group of companies brought in three retired permanent secretaries, an artificial intelligence and big data expert, a professor in sustainable infrastructure engineering and a retired audit partner.

With the latest changes, the boards of ComfortDelGro and SBS Transit will have 10 and nine directors respectively – seven men and three women for ComfortDelGro and six men and three women for SBS Transit. Vicom will have 10 directors, comprising seven men and three women.

The percentages of women on the boards of companies now range from 30 to 33 per cent, higher than the Council for Board Diversity’s target of 20 per cent in 2020.

Source: Straits Times

China will continue to support UNESCO in empowering more women and children to embrace a brighter future via platforms created by the development of the Belt and Road, said Peng Liyuan, wife of President Xi Jinping.

Peng, UNESCO special envoy for the advancement of girls’ and women’s education, made the remark at a special session on girls’ and women’s education held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on Tuesday. She was accompanying Xi on a state visit to France.

Peng said promoting education of girls and women is a lofty cause that deserves attention, support and dedication from more people.

After some laureates of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education gave brief remarks on their understanding and promotion of the undertaking, Peng said she appreciated the efforts made by the United Nations body and the prizewinners.

In discussing her work in this field over the past five years, Peng referred to the Spring Bud Project, a program launched by China Children and Teenagers’ Fund to both help female school dropouts return to the classroom as well as improve teaching conditions in impoverished areas.

Knowledge and skills are two great forces that can change the lives of women, and with equal and quality education, they all have the opportunity to be outstanding, she added.

In the meeting with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay before the special session, Peng said China firmly supports the UN body and her work, and she hopes China and UNESCO will continue to deepen cooperation to jointly promote world peace and prosperity as well as the progress of human civilization.

Azoulay said that China has made great achievements in the past 70 years, including progress in the development of education and women’s rights.

UNESCO highly values the cooperation with China and the support from China is of great importance under current circumstances, she said.

In an interview with Xinhua News Agency, Azoulay spoke highly of Peng as a UNESCO special envoy.

“Peng is particularly committed to the central role of teachers in gender equality,” Azoulay said, adding that UNESCO appreciates the contribution of Peng to educating girls and women, as well as the long-term partnership with China in helping ensure that access to quality education for all becomes a reality.

Peng was nominated as a UNESCO special envoy on March 27, 2014. Since then, Peng has worked closely with UNESCO to promote equal rights for women in education, self-development and in achieving success, Azoulay said.

Supported by the Chinese government, the UNESCO prize directly contributes to the attainment of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those dealing with education and gender equality.

Source: China Daily

Indonesian voters have yet to directly elect a female president, but more high-profile women than ever are leading parties and running for office as the political ground shifts in the world’s third-largest democracy.

Megawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s founder, chief of the country’s largest political party and former president (she was appointed), remains the most influential politician. Her move to veto President Joko Widodo’s first choice of a running mate underscored her stature as the kingmaker. There are also two of former dictator Suharto’s daughters and the daughter of former president Abdurrahman Wahid wielding considerable political clout in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

While incumbent Widodo is pitching for better representation of women in politics — he has eight females in his cabinet holding important ministries such as a finance and foreign — his challenger Prabowo Subianto says he believes more in output than tokenism. With women marginally outnumbering men among the country’s total 193 million voters, they have a chance to determine who gets to rule Indonesia for the next five years.

While Megawati is the only woman to have contested the Indonesian presidential polls since direct elections were introduced in 2004, there are several women who could make a future bid. Here’s a look at the most influential female politicians in Indonesia.

Megawati Soekarnoputri

At 72, Megawati, may be too old for taking another shot at the top job. She became Indonesia’s only female president after Wahid, known as Gus Dur, was impeached by the parliament for incompetence. But as the founder of ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, she decides who gets to become the party’s nominees for important posts such as governor, regents and mayors.

She contested the elections in 2004 and 2009 and lost to Susilo Bambang Yudhyono on both the occasions. Her daughter Puan Maharani is a senior member of Jokowi cabinet. Megawati remains a champion of women’s causes and wants to see more females step up to important political jobs.

“Why don’t Indonesian women want to be like me? Not to brag about myself, but up until now, I’m the only president of Indonesia who is a female,” she said at her birthday bash in late January, Kompas news portal reported.

Siti Hediati Hariyadi

Nicknamed Titiek, Hariyadi is one of Suharto’s six children and the ex-wife of Prabowo. She quit Golkar, a party founded by her father, ahead of the presidential poll to join the Berkarya Party that was formed by her brother Hutomo Mandala Putra, known as Tommy Suharto.

The siblings’ coming together with Berkarya Party is seen by many analysts as the return of the Suharto dynasty into political arena after lying low since their father was toppled from power in 1998. Titiek, 58, is supporting Prabowo.

Grace Natalie

Natalie, a former popular news anchor, quit her profession and founded a party for the country’s millennials. The 36-year-old s the only commoner among the grand dames of Indonesian politics and is already raising some uncomfortable questions about the nation’s political customs and practice.

Natalie, who co-founded the Indonesian Solidarity Party with four of her colleagues, offers an antithesis to conventional politics for more than 80 million millennial voters. Her party is focused on issues important to women and youth, such as education and lowering income tax for millennials, in its bid to become a national political force.

The party has turned heads with its demands for an end to polygamy and an amendment to draconian blasphemy laws. It’s also started conferring ‘lie awards’ to politicians making hollow or misguided statements as a way to ensure more accountability among politicians. Natalie’s party is backing Jokowi.

Yenny Wahid

The daughter of Gus Dur, Wahid is former director of Wahid Institute and a political force as the heir of the founding family of Nahdatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization. A former journalist with a masters from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Wahid wields considerable clout among the members of Nahdatul Ulama, which also controls the National Awakening Party.

While politicians across parties revere the Gus Dur family, Wahid threw her support behind Jokowi’s bid for a second term, saying a leader must be modest and be able to meet people’s basic needs.

Rahayu Saraswati

Saraswati is the latest entrant to the long line of political inheritors. The daughter of oil and gas tycoon Hashim Djojohadikusumo, she’s the deputy chief of Prabowo’s Gerindra party with and holds responsibility for its women’s wing. She’s Prabowo’s niece.

A Chinese-Christian, Saraswati doesn’t believe a greater number of women in top positions would guarantee gender issues will be addressed in conservative Indonesia. The effort must go beyond that. “I will instill gender perspective in as many men as possible,” the 33-year-old said in an interview.

Indrawati, Marsudi

Jokowi has women heading some of the most important ministries in his government. While they’re not politicians, they have come to symbolize the rise of women in Indonesia’s public life.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati is a former economist and managing director at the World Bank and is one of the most prominent faces of Jokowi’s cabinet. Retno Marsudi, the first female foreign minister, is a career diplomat and Fisheries and Maritime Minister Susi Pudjiastuti is a successful businesswoman credited with turning the fortunes of the marine industry and curbing illegal fishing.

Source: Bloomberg

Professional services firm Deloitte said it will provide education and skills training to 10 million girls and women in India with an aim to equip them to find a meaningful work.

The exercise will be carried out under its global initiative World-class, Deloitte said in a statement.

The initiative aims “to support 10 million girls and women by 2030 through education and skills development,” it said.

It said that globally, the World-class initiative seeks to prepare 50 million people to be better equipped for the future of work, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Deloitte’s World-class programme in India will focus on improving girls’ retention rate in school, higher educational outcomes, and skills development for women to access employment, it added.

Under the initiative, partnerships will be launched with organisations such as Katha and Pratham. These organisations are working to improve the learning outcomes of millions of children and young people in schools and communities across India.

Our goal with WorldClass is to empower 50 million people globally by 2030, by providing them access to the education and skills required to find meaningful work in the new economy,” Punit Renjen, Global CEO, Deloitte said.

The world is on the brink of a seismic shift with the emergence of the Industry 4.0 wave, and to thrive in it, “we must work together so that no one is left behind, he said.

Across India, he said, almost 40 per cent of girls aged 15-18 years drop out of school and college, and only 26 per cent of women are employed.

As one of the emerging economies on the world stage today, India’s demographic dividend forms an integral component of its growth story. The task of harnessing its power has to be fueled by the private sector,” a Deloitte India spokesperson said.

Source: Economic Times India