TOKYO – In a country known for its lack of gender equality, women in Japan are finding equal footing in the legal field, particularly in the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office where the male-female ratio has reached 50-50 this year, according to officials. This is a marked change from 20 years ago when only 8% of Japanese prosecutors were women.
However, despite being ranked No. 1 in equal access to education for women and men, Japan still lags behind in gender equality for developed nations. Women tend to be over-represented in the service sector and clerical work, while being underrepresented in manufacturing, security personnel, and management. Only 5% of listed companies’ board members are women, according to the Gender Equality Bureau in the Japanese Cabinet Office.
Prosecutor Rina Ito, who is now on her 10th year on the job, acknowledged that luck played a role in her career. Ito graduated from Keio University, a prestigious institution that was founded by a proponent of women’s rights and where women make up almost half of attendance. She then passed the national bar, a stringent test required of all Japanese prosecutors.
“When you think about who has the task of pursuing the truth, among judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors, it’s the prosecutors,” Ito said in a February interview with The Associated Press. “Prosecutors can go after the truth. That’s why I set my heart on becoming a prosecutor.”
In Japan, prosecutors are known for going after corruption in high places, such as the Lockheed scandal of the 1970s and the bribery and bid-rigging related to the Tokyo Olympics.
Ito’s mother was a full-time homemaker, and her father a “salaryman,” but neither discouraged her from pursuing a career. Her husband helps take care of their 2-year-old daughter.
Male prosecutors are also doing their part in evening out the score. Some say they make a point to treat female colleagues equally, and the shuffling of prosecutors to various regional offices throughout the nation makes it almost impossible to develop personal relationships that could affect advancement prospects and fair evaluation.
Despite this progress, Japan still has a long way to go in achieving gender equality. The country ranks 116th in gender equality, according to the latest data compiled by the World Economic Forum, with Iceland and Finland topping the list and the United States ranked at No. 27.