Recently formed industry group Women in Media Network Japan sent out a number of official requests on Tuesday to the Abe Cabinet, in a bid to encourage the government to properly address what the organization feels are inadequate protections for media workers subjected to sexual harassment.
Formed in the aftermath of sexual harassment accusations against Junichi Fukuda, the former top bureaucrat at the Finance Ministry, the group also took the government to task for what it called a glacial response to the scandal and a string of official comments widely viewed as being insensitive to victims.
“The Finance Minister’s comments and lack of action are not just problematic for women journalists but also for women in society as a whole,” said Yoshiko Hayashi, a representative of the new organization, at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.
“We request that the finance minister take an employee training course on sexual harassment himself,” said Hayashi, a former journalist for the daily Asahi Shimbun.
Despite mounting evidence in the sexual harassment claims against Fukuda, Finance Minister Taro Aso initially remained unconvinced as to the authenticity of the accusations — going as far as to suggest that the top bureaucrat may have been framed.
Comments by Aso last week stating that “there is no crime (officially) called sexual harassment” set off further small-scale protests across a number of cities including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Aso was apparently referring to the fact that there are no laws specifically designed to define and punish sexual harassment.
There are, however, several laws that can be applied in cases.
While Aso on Monday apologized for the first time, directly to the female reporter believed to have been subject to sexual advances by Fukuda, for many observers the government’s response and apologies have been too little and too late.
The group, which has 82 members from freelance and traditional media, also made clear their dissatisfaction with what they see as inaction by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, who also handles women’s empowerment issues for the Cabinet.
“For our first action as a group, we have created a list of recommendations to prevent future cases of sexual harassment,” said Hayashi, who outlined both grievances and recommendations for the Abe Cabinet as it responds to the harassment case.
“There are very few women in journalism who have not experienced some form of sexual harassment, but many in the past have not raised their voices due to embarrassment, or concerns that it may affect their employment,” added Hayashi.
That reluctance to speak up about sexual harassment in the industry may be changing. Another representative from the group, Chie Matsumoto, read through a list of personal anecdotes from other female journalists who have come forward in increasing numbers with accounts of harassment they have experienced or witnessed.
Details of the allegations against Fukuda, who has since retired from his post, were first published in the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho. According to the magazine, which also released audio clips of the conversations, Fukuda is said to have made sexually charged comments to female reporters such as, “Can I give you a hug?” and “Can I touch your breasts?”
Matsumoto said that while the next steps for the group are not completely clear, they hope eventually to be a platform to offer advice to journalists who have experienced harassment in their workplaces.