Japan military needs more women, harassment issue

May 19, 2024 1:30 pm

[Source: Reuters]

As Japan embarks on a major military build-up, it’s struggling to fill its ranks with the women that its forces need and its policymakers have pledged to recruit.

Following a wave of sexual harassment cases, the number of women applying to join the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) decreased by 12% in the year ending March 2023, after several years of steady growth. Some victims have said an entrenched culture of harassment could deter women from signing up.

But nine months after the defence ministry pledged to take drastic measures, it has no plans to take action on a key recommendation issued by an independent panel of experts – implementing a national system for reviewing anti-harassment training standards – according to two ministry officials responsible for training.

Article continues after advertisement

The government-appointed panel had identified in a report published in August that the military’s superficial harassment education – which made only limited mention of sexual harassment – and a lack of centralised oversight of such training were contributing factors to cultural problems within the institution.

The head of the panel, Makoto Tadaki, said some training sessions – one of which Reuters attended – were at odds with the gravity of the situation.

A servicewoman who is suing the government over an alleged sexual harassment incident also said in an interview that the education she received over the past 10 years was ineffective.

Calls to root out harassment and increase the number of servicewomen come as aging Japan faces rising threats from China, North Korea and Russia and navigates the burdensome legacy of its wartime past.

Women make up just 9% of military personnel in Japan, compared to 17% in the United States, Tokyo’s key security ally.

The SDF referred Reuters’ questions to the defence ministry, which said in an emailed response that harassment “must never be allowed, as it destroys mutual trust between service members and undermines their strength.”

The ministry said it had hosted harassment prevention lectures by external experts since 2023, made sessions more discussion-based and planned to invite specialists to review its training this year.