The 110th Annual Meeting of Internal Medicine
Open Symposium on Gender Equality
“Born Female: A Disadvantage from Birth?”
Born Female: A Disadvantage from Birth？
Greetings by the Chairperson
Jikei University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan
Last October, the World Economic Forum, a Swiss think tank, published its annual global gender gap report. It revealed a fact that shocked us all: that Japan ranks 101st among the world’s 135 countries in terms of gender equality. The survey compared the status of different countries based on economic, political, education-based, and health-based criteria, such as
(1) the degree of female participation in economic activities and the extent of opportunities given
(2) their educational statuses
(3) their involvement in politics and participation in decision-making, and
(4) their health, medical status and longevity.
Last year, Iceland came in top place, followed by Scandinavian countries such as Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The UK was ranked 18th, the US was 22nd, and China, 69th. Japan, which was ranked 98th the previous year, slipped even further to 101st place last year. Japan is ranked the second highest in the world in terms of women’s average lifespan, and boasts high educational levels and an advanced economy. Why, then, was Japan judged to show such a huge gap between men and women? The reason is that the level of Japanese women’s participation in politics and decision-making is pathetically low.
In Europe and the US, we often hear the term “glass ceiling.” This refers to a state where women who, after rising to a certain level of status in society in general, particularly in corporations, government and public offices and educational/research institutions, find themselves unable to proceed any further, almost as if they had hit their heads on a “glass ceiling” that acts as an invisible barrier. Once they approach a position that will give them decision-making power, they often come up against this barrier. The World Economic Forum report spotlights the harsh fact that Japan’s glass ceiling is set extremely low, and that many women have resigned themselves to their low status, not even able to come anywhere near the Japanese glass ceiling.
Needless to say, different types of programs and measures have been implemented in Japan to elevate the status of women and to reduce the gender gap. The report shows, however, that, seen globally, Japan’s current state of affairs is far from satisfactory, and that there still is much room for improvement. The areas of medicine and healthcare are no exception. It is true that the number of female physicians in Japan continues to increase dramatically. The fact is, however, that the proportion of female doctors who take on leadership positions is still low. When a woman decides to work as a doctor and raise a family at the same time, and build her career by continuing to work even after marriage and motherhood, what exactly are the obstacles she faces? Toward the near future in which the working population is anticipated to decrease sharply, what exactly is the optimal structure of society that will be necessary for developing the skills and abilities of female physicians, and for supporting them? Gender equality cannot be promoted without men’s support and understanding. But what about changing the awareness of men? On the other hand, are women fulfilling their social responsibilities with unwavering determination, and not just asserting their rights? Don’t you agree that we have an endless list of things we should think about?
So, for this Open Symposium, we have decided to adopt a simple and direct title, “Born Female: A Disadvantage from Birth?” and consider this point from a global perspective. As the keynote speaker, we have invited Ms. Kristin Hetle, Director, Strategic Partnerships, Advocacy, Civil Society, Communications and Resource Mobilization Division at UN Women, a UN agency established in 2010 that handles women’s issues. Ms. Hetle is a native of Norway, a Scandinavian country known for having elected a female pediatrician named Gro Harlem Brundtland as prime minister for three terms from the 1980s to the 1990s. Ms. Hetle has served as a bureau director at the Ministry of Labor in Norway, and also worked in private corporations and international agencies. She is an expert on gender issues not only in Scandinavia, but also around the world. Meanwhile, the discussions that follow this keynote lecture will feature a group of truly wonderful discussants. From the US, we will have Dr. Dorothy J Becker, MBBCh, who has long served as a Chief of Endocrinology and Diabetes at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. From Japan, we have Dr. Etsuko Hashimoto, Professor of the Institute of Gastroenterology, Department of Internal Medicine at Tokyo Women’s Medical University; Dr. Kayo Waki, who is Assistant Professor, Department of Ubiquitous Heath Informatics, Graduate School of Medicine, the University of Tokyo; and Dr. Motoko Yanagida at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine, Professor of the Department of Nephrology, who is co-chairing this Open Symposium with me. These discussants will be talking about the activities of UN Women, the situation in the US, the current status and challenges faced by Japan, proposals, and other topics. To recap the discussions, we will hear comments by Professor Tamio Teramoto, Chairperson of the Japanese Society of Internal Medicine. During the latter half of the discussions, we would like to invite comments and questions from the floor, so we hope that you’ll join us by contributing some thoughtful and challenging remarks. Thank you.