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日本女性呼吁修改姓氏法:姓氏问题为职业发展带来“几多愁” 'Ruining my career': calls grow for Japan to change law on married surnames

中国日报网 2024-03-07 14:56






For Akiko Saikawa, the administrative nightmare began soon after she married.

对于Akiko Saikawa来说,行政噩梦在她结婚后不久开始。


The office worker from Tokyo had to go through dozens of procedures to change her name on her passport and other documents, as well updating her social media accounts. All because she had been required, by law, to change her surname as a married woman.



Couples in Japan are free to choose which surname to take when they marry, but in 95% of cases, it is the woman who changes her name, often with reluctance.



"It was very time consuming and inconvenient,” Saikawa says. “But the most troublesome part was that my name on our family register changed to that of my husband. That means I have had to make it clear to employers that I want to continue being referred to by my maiden name at work.”



Now attention is turning to the archaic law that forbids married couples from using separate surnames, and the almost three decades of inaction after a government panel drew up proposals to change part of a civil code first adopted in the late 1800s.



Inconvenience aside, campaigners say the insistence on using the same surname is another sign of Japan’s lack of progress on gender equality.



Machiko Osawa, a professor and specialist in labour economics at Japan Women’s University, blames the lack of progress on “old-fashioned patriarchal attitudes” in the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP) and among supreme court justices “who insist on supporting an antediluvian status quo”.

日本女子大学的劳动经济学教授和专家Machiko Osawa指责执政的自由民主党和最高法院法官们“坚持支持陈旧的父权主义态度”,将缺乏进展归咎于这些因素。


"Newlywed women have to waste so much time changing their names on banking accounts, credit cards, passports and all other official documents. And for those who have established themselves as professionals, being forced to change their name is a denial of what they have accomplished. It sows confusion and subordinates them to men,” Osawa says.



Locked out of hotel rooms



After years of stalling, pressure is building on the LDP, not just from rights campaigners, but also senior business leaders who say the rule is proving an obstacle to Japanese firms that do business overseas.



Masahiko Uotani, chief executive of the cosmetics giant Shiseido, said he knew of female executives who had been locked out of hotel rooms or denied admission to meetings on overseas business trips because their ID didn’t match their surname.



"The current system is becoming a barrier to career development for those who are internationally active,” Uotani said at a meeting of the Japan Business Federation, a powerful lobby group, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.



The federation, known as Keidanren, has collected testimony from other professional women who have fallen foul of the single-name requirement. One said that having to change her last name “is ruining my career as the academic papers I’ve written under my maiden name are not being recognised”, according to the Mainichi. Another said: “In some cases, my business name has not been accepted when signing contracts.”



Now Keidanren has thrown its weight behind the campaign in a reflection of a shift in Japanese corporate culture. While almost 84% of companies allow women to keep their original surnames in the workplace, according to a 2022 survey by the Institute of Labour Administration, the extra documentation needed on overseas work trips continues to cause confusion.



"I want it to be implemented as a top priority to support women’s working styles,” Keidanren’s head, Masakazu Tokura, said recently, declaring himself “bewildered” by the lack of progress since the ministry panel made its recommendation in 1996.



While the government has allowed maiden names to appear alongside married names on passports, driving licences and residence certificates, Japan remains maybe the only country in the world that requires spouses to use the same name.



Conservative LDP members argue that amending the civil code would amount to an assault on traditional values by “undermining” family unity and causing confusion among children.



Osawa, who is “not optimistic” that recent pressure will lead to a legal change, dismisses the family values argument as an “excuse for inaction”.



"Japan’s divorce rate is on a par with that of the UK and Germany, so the current law on names is not supporting family stability,” Osawa said. “Times have changed, and most households need a double income to make ends meet, so having a choice for couples to decide what name to go by makes sense, and it promotes gender equality.”



The prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has urged caution, claiming last year that “various opinions among the public” meant more discussion was needed to win “broad” support for the change.



Saikawa hopes other women do not have to navigate the bureaucratic maze she faced after marrying. “Having separate surnames would mean they would no longer have to alter their name dozens of times, reset their careers and rebuild the reputation they had established under their maiden name,” she says.



"And they would be able to cherish a name that represents their family’s history and is a part of their own identity.”






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