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Abenomics Meets Womenomics

Transforming the Japanese Workplace

Aozora Bank executive Michiko Achilles at the company's headquarters in Tokyo, November, 2008. Toru Hanai / Courtesy Reuters

When I recently visited Sayaka Osakabe at her sunny apartment in the quiet suburbs of Kawasaki, Japan, she spoke at length about her plans to transform Japanese society.

Osakabe, 37, has become something of a national symbol of women’s rights, leading a highly publicized campaign against “matahara,” a term she has turned into a buzzword for pregnancy discrimination. Two years ago, as a contract editor for a quarterly newsletter in Japan, Osakabe says she was taking time off in the middle of a trying pregnancy when her boss knocked on her front door and asked her to resign. (Her absence, she recalls him saying, had “caused trouble.”) She returned to work soon after, only to suffer a miscarriage. Following her recovery, she says, her boss asked her if she was still having sex.

Although Japanese law forbids this type of harassment, Osakabe’s story is strikingly common. According to a

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