Cases of gender, disability bias deal big blow to Japan

Scandals raise doubts about nation's efforts at inclusivity

Despite its much-hyped commitment to build a more inclusive society, Japan is reeling from two discrimination scandals this week.

Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama said on Tuesday that an ongoing probe into gender bias at 81 medical universities found that the practice of unfairly docking marks in entrance exam scripts of female applicants appeared to be "quite widespread".

He denounced the practice as a "betrayal of social trust".

Expected to be completed by year-end, the probe was sparked by the Tokyo Medical University's disclosure this August that it has been deliberately making it tougher for female applicants to enrol.

More than 20 women are now demanding compensation in a class action suit against the routine act that began in 2006, their lawyers said yesterday.

Separately, the government was found to have padded the number of employees with disabilities in its hire so that it can meet its own legal quota. The inflated count of 3,700also included dead and retired people, a probe on Monday found.

Sociologist Emi Kataoka of Tokyo's Komazawa University told The Straits Times that it was a travesty that people were marginalised because they failed to meet certain traditional ideals. "Both scandals relate to the strong masculine dominance in Japanese employment practices. Japan is still not fulfilling the democratic rules of fairness, equality or meritocracy."

Dr Kataoka said the government would need to show much stronger political will to take the lead and prove that it was not merely paying lip service to its "equality" pledge.

A panel looking into the Tokyo Medical University's score-rigging found on Tuesday that 69 applicants, including 55 women, with passing scores had been denied entry last year and this year. This was done under the instructions of former board of regents chairman Masahiko Usui and former president Mamoru Suzuki, who have both been charged over corruption in connection with a separate case.

Domestic media have named two more Tokyo universities - Showa University and Juntendo University - for engaging in score manipulation.

Mr Shibayama said his ministry will not name and shame any universities for now, urging the implicated schools to come clean and change their practices.

Meanwhile, the panel looking into the government's data-padding of disabled persons said on Monday that questionable human resource practices dated back to at least 20 years, and that there was arbitrary interpretation in the civil service of what counts as a disability.

Some 3,700 people were wrongly recognised as disabled, a figure revised up from the 3,460 previously reported. This means the percentage of disabled people hired by the government stood at 1.17 per cent as of June last year, way below the 2.5 per cent that it claimed to have achieved. The legal quota for the government at the time had been 2.3 per cent, but this was revised up to 2.5 per cent in April this year.

"There is no room for excuses," panel chief Gan Matsui, a former public prosecutor, said. "It is doubtful that sincere efforts were made to promote the employment of the disabled."

The Japanese government, in turn, pledged on Monday to employ at least 4,073 people with disabilities by March 2020 to meet the shortfall.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2018, with the headline Cases of gender, disability bias deal big blow to Japan. Subscribe