In regards to the recent events concerning the gender disparities of Japan's top universities, three WE Int. members respond to this article published by the New York Times.

Our last respondent is Darina Obukhova a Computational Biology and Medical Sciences Graduate student at the University of Tokyo.

Recently we learnt the alarming statistics of only 1 of 5 Todai students being a woman. This immediately made me think about another statistics – where around 15% of researchers in Japan are female. I feel this number in action every time I come to the class offered by my Department of Computational Biology and Medical Sciences where majority of professors are male. I think of it every time I look around myself in a classroom and see mostly male faces. A strong skew towards one gender feels a little bit strange and unwelcoming. Sometimes it even feels like a meeting in some sort of male-only club and I ask myself if I opened a wrong door.

All this mixture of feelings and thoughts makes me want more strong female role models in the department. It also makes me think of reasons for such a small number of female students and, later on, female researchers. I believe those two statics are rooted in a range of similar reasons. These reasons include the stereotype that a woman is supposed to choose whether she wants to be a wife and mother or an ambitious professional. While I was studying in the University of Tsukuba for my bachelor’s degree and assisting in several research labs, I met Japanese women with PhDs who worked as lab technicians. They did so because after completing doctorate they were required to choose between propelling themselves through the academic career or family life. Neither of them thought they could have both at the same time.

The reasons also include the stereotype that women should try harder than men. The idea that women have physiologically different brain, probably less predisposed to difficult analytic tasks and more inclined to tears, is also among them. All of these beliefs are archaic and irrelevant, as it is possible to have both –a successful career and a fulfilling family life. A biomedical study from the UK Biobank found out that male brains tend to have slightly higher total brain volume and higher volumes in every subcortical region than female ones, yet when adjusted relative to overall brain size, both sexes’ brain are far more similar than they are different.

This should be considered in the admission policies of the universities and advertisements of those. Stop pinkinizing the brain!

Darina, raised in the Russian-controlled Caucasus at the military base, she is currently pursuing her master's degree in Computational Biology and Medical Sciences at the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo. Her research is about the genes encoding for E3 ligases, proteins involved in protein degradation. She is passionate about science, science communication, and gender balance in STEM-related fields. She also does part-time jobs mostly related to writing/editing and enjoys snowboarding, reading and meditating in her free time.

In regards to the recent events concerning the gender disparities of Japan's top universities, three WE Int. members respond to this article published by the New York Times.

The second respondent is Reiko Amamiya, an exchange student at the University of Tokyo.

Before arriving at Todai I had two ideas of the institution. The first was the excitement students had upon their acceptance letters. The second was that popular culture such as Tokyo-based anime and manga which shared the idea that getting to Todai is a difficult task. Interestingly enough, there was not much coverage of what the university is actually like. However, Todai seems like a really respectable place in Tokyo, or at least most Japanese locals I’ve encountered to seem share that idea.

To believe that Todai is “Japan’s Most Elite University” is to believe that is the best university that Japanese society has to offer. The peculiar aspect for this perspective is that in my conversational experience, Todai is automatically regarded as a prestigious university, despite the gender disparity. This is to say, at present, school is considered more important in Japan than gender equality.

In one perspective, Todai being the best signifies that all universities and educational systems in Japan should aspire the same level of qualifications. This means that Todai will always be at the top until another Japanese university excels those accomplishments. According to the New York times article, receiving a degree from Tokyo’s most elite university will open doors to graduates in fields such as politics, business, law and science. It is important however to notice that the best of Japan’s politics, business, law and science accepts 1 woman for every 4 men. If this disparity is not properly addressed in Japan, 20 percent of what Japan deems important will include women whereas 80 percent will consist of men.

Viewing the situation from another angle, it is needless to say that Todai having outclass other universities it is the best result Japan could produce out of the circumstances and resources currently available. Nonetheless, Todai may not necessarily have the most preferable result but the outcome for the time being is considered better than the other Japanese universities. Although, there is reason to blame Japan’s most elite university. As mentioned previously, Todai represents the highest rank in the education system, and therefore should be a good example to other institutions across Japan. Unfortunately, this has not yet been realized due to lack of resources and actions for change.

However, where these struggles come from and what Todai needs to change is a matter of debate rather than an agreed upon situation. There are a lot of factors that affects Todai’s developments, from the fields people choose to follow, if people receive the same resources, to whether or not people graduate. In addition to that circumstances such as mental health and discrimination still influences people at large. Furthermore, hardly anyone has a support system or alternative options when failing in a chosen field or suffering hardship.

Overall, it may be said there are still many actions to drive for before we achieve equality. Needless to say, it would be nice to believe that equality will be achieved some time soon. In the meantime, the gender disparity we are currently facing is not something we should be proud of.

Reiko is an exchange student from Washington at the Univerity of Tokyo.

In regards to the recent events concerning the gender disparities of Japan's top universities, three WE Int. members respond to this article published by the New York Times.

The first respondent is Brooke Jackson, student at Yokohama National University.

For several decades, Japan has been widely considered one of the most innovative and technologically advanced countries in the world. However, it’s also no secret that this same nation has simultaneously battled (and blatantly disregarded) one of its most serious modern-day social issues: Gender inequality.

With recent objections such as the #kutoo movement and the backlash over the ban of women wearing glasses while at work, it came as no surprise for many that when The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 was released, Japan (having previously been ranked 110 on a global scale-out of 153) was ranked 121 for gender inequality worldwide, falling 11 places to its lowest level ever recorded. This announcement reignited serious discussions about Japanese women and their role in contemporary Japanese society.

The distinct lack of female representation is observable within every facet of Japanese life, most notably in educational and corporate settings where women who are comfortably thriving are few and far between. An article published by The New York Times on December 8th titled, ‘At Japan’s Most Elite University, Just 1 in 5 Students Is a Woman,’ emphasised the glaring reality of the current education environment at The University of Tokyo.

However, the gender-related issues that Japanese students encounter exist far beyond the halls of the country’s most prestigious institution. Other prominent Japanese universities experience many of the same concerns, some arguably even more so. One of these universities is Yokohama National University, an institution known for their leading urban science and engineering programs. Despite being one of the top national universities in the nation, YNU’s environment is no different. The institution's student body is made up of a staggering 79:21 male to female ratio. The majority of YNU’s departments are traditionally male-dominated fields and the lacking number of female students is evident on campus. Rarely in any of the engineering department buildings will you pass a female student in the halls. The same can be said when passing through the science department where the vast majority of the laboratories are occupied by male students.

There is a socially oppressive air that is not exclusively projected onto Japanese students but also onto international students who experience many of the same issues to varying degrees. In many of my own classes—which are urban-studies related and designed for international students but also taken by Japanese students—there is not only a distinct gender ratio difference but also a difference in the class dynamic. Female students are visibly more hesitant to raise their hands, share ideas and actively participate in discussions as these actions can be considered unladylike, improper and especially embarrassing when done in front of male classmates. I myself have also had moments of feeling awkward or inadequate when sharing relevant questions and comments or contribute to a discussion as the only female in a group. It should go without saying that all educational institutions should strive towards reducing societal gaps present within their student body. This includes striving to gain a balanced gender ratio within their student body as this would undoubtedly lead to improved performance and result in higher levels of participation and contribution from female students.

Subsequently, the gender gap issue that is failing young Japanese women is not exclusively a fault of the Japanese education system any more than it is a fault of the traditional Japanese social structure. Japanese social norms still restrict women from entering certain fields and consequently, the Japanese education system does not cater to female students the same way it does to its male students. Degrees in science or engineering are often not a desirable career choice for many Japanese women as many face the high possibility of adopting the traditional housewife role within the coming decade. Another contributing factor to this issue is the lack of female role models in science and engineering-related fields both on and off-campus. The lacking female representation is not only visible within the student body but also the faculty, as many of the specialised educators are predominantly male. The institutions that safeguard Japanese society are currently showing no outward efforts to close these gaps despite the fact that contemporary Japanese women no longer fit the mould set by the constraints of archaic roles and traditions.

With a new era fast approaching, Japan is long overdue for an active reconsideration of several areas of its social structure—many of which are outdated by global standards—if it is to eradicate gender inequality. Japanese universities will also need to reconsider in much the same way when appealing to prospective students if they are to improve the representation of women in education.

Originally from Adelaide, South Australia, Brooke Jackson is currently completing her Bachelors degree in Yokohama, Japan. Brooke is an avid reader, writer and globetrotter, with 20+ countries travelled to and counting. In her travels, Brooke has continued to pursue her artistic passions while becoming increasingly interested in the social, political and economic issues concerning our world.