According to the statistics recently released by the Ministry of Education, the proportion of women in undergraduate studies in Japan as in May, 2018 reached 45%, the highest ever. They were 31.3% and 33.6% in master’s and doctorate courses respectively, also the highest ever (https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL825K6WL82UTIL03R.html?iref=comtop_list_edu_n01, 2018/08/02). Despite this trend of women gaining more ground in school of higher learning, Tokyo Medical University, a prestigious private school, was recently found to be limiting the number of female applicants admitted to the school.
The school was said to have been slashing women applicants’ entrance exam scores by 10-15%. The practice apparently began around 2011 after the ratio of women among successful applicants reached 38% in 2010 (“Tokyo medical school ‘changed test scores to keep women out’”, The Guardian, 2018/08/04).
It was reported that in 2018 there were a total of 2,614 applicants to the university, of which 1,596 were men (61%) and 1,018 women (39%). After a mark-sheet exam at the first stage, 451 applicants, comprising 303 men (67%) and 148 women (33%), advanced to the second and final stage, consisting of interviews and essay writing. At this stage, 19% of men applicants (303/ 1596) advanced to the final stage, as opposed to 14.5% of women applicants (148 / 1018). Following the second stage, 171 applicants in total, comprising 141 men (82.5%) and 30 women (17.5%), were admitted. This means that 8.8% of the original men applicants (141/1596) and only 2.9% of women applicants (30/1,018) were successful as shown in the graph below (https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL8254KNL82UTIL02G.html, 2018/08/02).
This discriminatory practice by the school was just uncovered during the investigation of a corruption involving its administrators. They had been accused of granting a back-door entrance to a son of a senior education ministry official in exchange for a handsome government subsidy.
When this scandal was first reported in the media, not only the women but also the men who are currently studying there were outraged and staged a demonstration at its front gate. They demanded that such a practice be stopped immediately and a thorough investigation be conducted. Dr. Yoshiko Maeda, the president of the Japan Medical Women’s Association, also denounced the practice, citing the law enacted in 2016 for promoting more women to be active in the labour market under P.M. Abe. The practice is also in gross violation of Articles 14 and 22 of the Japanese Constitution, prohibiting such discrimination and guaranteeing the freedom of occupation, as pointed out by Prof. Noriko Wakao at Bukkyo University (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/national/list/201808/CK2018080502000121.html).
The school administrators apologized for the practice; however, they justified it on the ground that women were more likely to drop out of school or quit the profession after marriage or childbirth. Since the medical university provides doctors to the hospitals of affiliation, they feared that there would be a serious shortage of doctors if school admission was strictly based on exam scores (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/s/article/2018080390070239.html). The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare data do support their concern. While 89.9% of men doctors usually remain in the profession 12 years after obtaining medical license, the proportion for women is down to 73.4% (http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/national/list/201808/CK2018080302000139.html).
What I found sad was the results of a survey conducted among women doctors on the practice, carried out by the publisher of a web magazine targeting women in medical profession. A total of 103 responded. Among them, 18.4% were “understandable” and 46.6% “somewhat understandable” of the practice. Though they were not fully supportive of the discrimination, they seemed to be resigned to the hard reality where it’s necessary for any institution to secure enough staff for its smooth running (https://www3/nhk.or.jp/news/html/20180808/k10011568421000.html).
When women doctors take maternity leave, it seems that they are unjustly made to feel guilty, though, in my view, the lack of adequate medical staff is mainly due to the failure of those in charge of human resource planning at national and institutional levels. Women have all the right to demand that equality in entering any profession be respected. They may also press that friendly work environment be provided to help them remain fully active beyond marriage and childbirth. This is particularly important for the Japanese women who are known to carry far heavier family responsibilities than women in other OECD countries. After all, doesn’t the government now promote a higher birthrate to decelerate the speed of population decline and encourage more women to “shine” and be active to contribute to national economic growth? In order not to allow the government slogans to become mere empty promises, women have to be more vocal with specific demands.
In relation to the above demands, not only women in medical profession but all categories of workers in all economic fields should remind the government of the fact that Japan already ratified ILO Convention No. 156 on Workers with Family Responsibilities back in 1995. Any signatory of this convention is expected to draw up a national policy to provide community services, public or private, to enable persons with family responsibilities to engage in employment without being subject to discrimination. I wonder how much progress Japan has made in this respect since the ratification in 1995.