The National Network in Solidarity with Migrant Workers (Network) prepared the "Proposals for Comprehensive Policies for Foreign Residents -Toward a Multi-ethnic and Multi-cultural Society" in May 2002 to address issues affecting foreign residents in Japan. The proposals call for an improvement in the framework for the protection of the rights of migrant workers.
A portion of the proposals concerning women migrants is presented below.1
The experiences and situations of migrant women in Japan are diverse. But they share some common structural factors: social and cultural gender roles (which place additional burden on the women in the form of multiple discrimination), lack of or diminished rights as migrants, and limited opportunities in the labor market.
The Network proposes to bring the Japanese legislative and administrative measures more in line with the international human rights standards, and calls for effective improvement in the policies for the protection of the rights of migrant women.
The number of victims of trafficking/organized prostitution seeking shelter has not decreased. The majority of the women are from the Philippines and Thailand, but recent victims include those from South America, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The government has no accurate information regarding the conditions of the workers, nor does it have specific policies to protect their rights.
Trafficking/organized prostitution is a difficult problem because of the involvement of international organized crime syndicates. The police and immigration authorities are the main agencies addressing the issue. But the police often refuse to provide protection to the women. And the basic immigration policy is to detain and deport women who have been found to engage in prostitution.
The Network proposes that the government conduct a study on the trafficking/forced prostitution of foreign women and children, and implement policies to abolish the practice, as well as help the victims. The government should prosecute and punish the traffickers, brokers and other perpetrators. To effectively assist the victims of trafficking/organized prostitution, their cases should not be treated as mere violation of immigration laws. Government officials involved in assisting such victims should not be required to report them to immigration authorities. The government also needs to strengthen cooperation with NGOs in Japan as well as those in the countries of the victims, and ensure medical and psychological care and rehabilitation program for them.
Discrimination against working women in Japan in general (such as the limited types and number of available jobs and low pay) are exacerbated in the case of foreign migrant women, regardless of visa status.
Foreign migrant women who come to Japan with "entertainer" visa are vulnerable to sexual abuse in the so-called "entertainment" (drinking) places, and to getting involved in the sex industry. Japanese labor laws do not have provision on "entertainers," thus depriving these foreign women a means to protect their rights. Numerous cases have been reported involving "surrender" of passports to employers, non-payment of wages, pay cuts and forced prostitution.
The number of foreign domestic workers is estimated at around 3,000, mostly working for expatriates and foreign government officials. They are forced to work longer hours, with no guarantee of minimum pay. They are isolated from the outside, and many are exposed to violence. Japanese labor laws do not apply to this category of workers.
The Network proposes that the government expands the area of work available to foreign migrant women. The government should also ensure that the labor laws are applied, and the labor rights of foreign migrant women workers protected, regardless of "entertainer" or domestic worker status. The legal measure should cover both Japanese and foreign employers, including officials of foreign governments.
Foreign migrant women, residing in Japan on a permanent basis by virtue of marriage, face a broad range of issues involving language, marriage relationship, reproductive rights, and culture.
Pregnancy and childbirth in a foreign environment, where the public and private support systems found in their home countries do not exist, are stressful. The institution of the "family" and the role of the "wife of the son," which are related to the traditional concepts of gender roles, create considerable conflicts and stress.
The women are disadvantaged by language, the lack of support system for learning Japanese language, as well as the lack of basic information about their own community in their native language.
Within the family, many of the women are required to adapt to the Japanese way of life and are not permitted to practice their own culture, such as the use of their language. They are also deprived of their right to decide in matters of birth control and use of contraceptives. Among foreign women working in the sex industry, this leads to an increase in HIV infection. Many foreign migrant mothers cannot avail themselves of the existing support systems for child-raising, due to lack of information.
The Network's proposal calls for the improvement in the system for providing necessary information, such as medical information, and support for the women as well as other family members at the local and national levels. The support systems should be sensitive to the culture of the foreign migrant women.
Some shelters report that among the foreign migrant women seeking help there are more victims of domestic violence than those of trafficking, which was the major cause for seeking help through the 80s and early 90s. Domestic violence is rooted in discrimination against women, but the foreign migrant women's situation is worsened by the added factor of racial discrimination.
Support services for victims of domestic violence are dependent on resident permit, therefore access is denied to foreign migrant women without such status. Even for those with access, the authorities providing those services, such as the social welfare offices, courts, or women's centers are not sufficiently aware of the situation of foreign migrant women.
For many foreign migrant women, their resident status is dependent on their marriage. In case of divorce, change or renewal of their residence status is difficult to obtain if they do not have children of Japanese nationality.
The Network proposes that protection and support under the Law on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims should be provided at the national and local levels to all women regardless of nationality and status. Protection of the victims should have priority over immigration law requirements. The foreign victims should also be given favorable consideration in matters of divorce and custody of children.
The National Network in Solidarity with Migrant Workers consists of interested individuals and organizations working for the protection of the rights of migrants in Japan. Several of the organizations in the network have shelter for foreign migrants.
For more information, please contact: National Network in Solidarity with Migrant Workers, Bunkyo-ku, Koishikawa 2-17-41, Tomisaka Christian Center, 2-203,Tokyo,Japan, ph (813) 5802-6033, fax (813) 5802-6034, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org, www.jca.apc.org/migrant-net/