Women’s Rights

Even today, women around the world continue to be subjected to discrimination, violence and deprivations of freedoms. Simply because of their gender, women can be deprived of their security, independence and even subjected to unjust imprisonment, torture, and execution.

HRN, working together with NGOs from around the world and especially in Asia, takes actions to end all forms of discrimination and violence against women women.

Women Around the World

There are still countless women all over the world who are deprived of living a truly free and self-determined life, due to the severe levels of gender-based discrimination they face on a daily basis. Many of them even fear for their sheer survival. Even in today’s world, there exists violence against women during armed conflict, “honor killings” (in which women and girls are killed for the sake of “love” or “honor”), “girl marriages” (in which underaged children are forced to get married), female genital mutilation, domestic violence, dowry murder, rape, human trafficking, forced prostitution, unfair punishment and many other serious forms of gender-based violence against women.

As Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has recognized in her advocacy work, discrimination against women starts at the root of society, as many girls are still not given the opportunity to obtain a sufficient education – making it impossible for them to fulfill their dreams.

In recent years, women have also become involved in global supply chains, such as the garment industry, and have therefore become victims of exploitative, physically taxing labor practices. Since the 2013 Rana Plaza incident in Bangladesh, we have been continuously raising awareness about the exploitation of female workers in global production, particularly in the garment industry. We have conducted surveys and campaigns to make decent work a reality. This requires that Asian female workers, who are responsible for the production process of global companies, not subjected to exploitative labor.

Additionally, in 2018, HRN published the “Discrimination in the Punishment of Women Report.” The report summarizes the discriminatory punishment practices against women in eight different countries and makes recommendations to public authorities on how to end human rights abuses. The full report as well as a summary can be found below.

Current Situation in Japan

In Japan, many women are also suffering from severe violence and exploitation. According to statistics released by the Cabinet Office, “One in three women have been abused by a partner.” Domestic violence (DV) and stalking are becoming more severe in Japan, causing great suffering for women.

In 2011 and 2012, many young women were killed by perpetrators of domestic violence/stalkers. HRN proposed an effective revision of the “Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims”. In addition, we conducted a campaign in collaboration with UN Women and influenced the third domestic violence prevention law revision.

Regarding the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, HRN has made various policy proposals and contributed policies from the perspective of women’s rights and needs, which are particularly vulnerable.

Since 2016, HRN has focused on human rights violations against young women when they are forced to appear in pornographic videos. In Japan, the number of victims who are forced to appear in videos under the threat of a penalty is increasing. The act of forcing women to appear in a pornographic video against their will, as well as selling said the video semi-permanently, exposes private sexual acts to the public eye without the woman’s consent. This is a serious human rights violation, akin to human trafficking and debt servitude. In response to this, HRN has published the “Ending Forced Appearances in Pornographic Films.

March 2020 Submission of Signatures to the Minister of Justice Requesting Revision of the Penal Code

Since the fiscal year 2019, HRN has been conducting advocacy activities to realize revisions to the Penal Code related to sexual crimes. According to a survey by the Cabinet Office, 1 in 13 women and 1 in 67 men answered that they had “experienced forced sexual intercourse”. However, there are only 1307 cases of damage recognized in one year—of which approximately 37% (492 cases) have been prosecuted. Current criminal law stipulates strict requirements for a sexual offense to be established. As a result, there are a number of cases in which the police do not accept the victim’s damage report, and even if they do, the case is not prosecuted.

In order to counteract such cases, HRN makes policy proposals to the government and relevant industries to improve the situation. We also carry out various campaigns to encourage young women to look out for themselves and develop a consciousness for women’s rights and against unjust violence or coercion.

2023 Revision of the Penal Code

On June 16, 2023, the Japanese Parliament passed a law that will significantly transform the country’s sex crime laws. The revised law went into effect on July 13 2023. Since then, several arrests have already been made under the new penal code. The first arrest after the enforcement of the new law was an 18-year old male in Okayama Prefecture, who is suspected to have sexually assaulted a 16-year old girl. (Source: https://news.ksb.co.jp/article/14983300) This marks the first time Japanese authorities have made an arrest on suspicion of “nonconsensual sexual intercourse”.

The law’s primary aims are to broaden the definition of the punishable crime of forced sexual intercourse and bring Japan closer to international rape legislation standards. Hence, the penal code has been amended in the following ways:

  • The age of consent has been raised from 13 to 16 years.
  • The definition of rape was broadened to “non-consensual sexual intercourse” from “forcible sexual intercourse”, aligning Japanese law’s definition with other countries.
  • The rigid requirements that establish the crime of non-consensual sex have been expanded to include cases in which physical coercion or violence is absent. The new law takes into account various factors that can lead to a victim’s non-consent, such as power imbalances, societal or financial standing, “freezing” responses, alcohol or drug use, or a victim’s possible mental illness.
  • New crimes have been established combatting so-called “upskirting” or the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
  • The statute of limitations for non-consensual intercourse has been raised from 10 to 15 years. In cases of sexual assault resulting in injury or death, the statute has been raised from 15 to 20 years. 

Human Rights Now (HRN) strongly welcomes these changes, as HRN has been consistently involved with advocacy work regarding the revision of the penal code since 2017. Several amendments to the law have been championed by HRN and other advocacy groups (e.g., Spring) for many years. HRN has continuously made policy proposals to the Japanese government and released an extensive and timely report concerning the penal code revisions. (Read here). The revised penal code comes closer to orienting around victims and their real-life experience, hopefully making it easier for survivors of sexual assault to find justice.

Despite this progress, there are still challenges that remain. HRN has repeatedly called for Japanese legislators to abolish conditions to the sexual crimes penal code that are too difficult for victims to prove. However, the current requirements to establish the crime of rape still include some burdensome conditions for victims. Specifically, the second condition (proof that non-consensual intercourse was “significantly difficult to reject) presents a significant hurdle for victims that want to pursue legal action. Additionally, Japanese legislators still do not clearly state that all non-consensual intercourse is rape anywhere in the renewed penal code. Considering these shortcomings regarding its content and wording, HRN retains that Japan’s sexual crimes penal code still has some way to go when it comes to meeting international rape legislation standards.

Activista~Support for Women’s Human Rights Activists~

Across the world, female women human rights defenders working to end human rights violations against women and change the world are vulnerable and facing challenges. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the protection and support of these Women Human Rights Defenders. HRN supports these women and conducts activities to recognize their activities as Activista.

*Human Rights Now is an international NGO with the special consultative status to the United Nations.