Gender equality in the European Union and Japan

Authors: Emma Raucent


The Japanese political discourse has shifted toward a gender-friendly strategy under the economic
recovery programme of the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. But is this discourse echoed in the case
law of Japanese courts? This paper explores the position of the Japanese judiciary with regard to
gender equality at work and compares it with that of the European Court of Justice. Applying the
European conceptual framework to the Japanese case law suffers several limitations. As a matter
of fact, if Japan formally embraces certain European legal concepts pertaining to gender equality,
such as direct and indirect discrimination, confronting the Japanese case law with such concepts
allows the present analysis to shed light on their relative incompatibility with the particularism
of the Japanese judicial approach to labour relations and labour issues. Fundamentally this comparison is meant to highlight the extent to which Japan’s ranking as the 114th country that best
achieves “gender equal economic participation and opportunity”1 is not reducible to mere neglect
or bias from the legislature and judiciary, so that the temptation to invite the latter to simply endorse a more aggressive approach in favour of gender equality, identical to that of other legal orders,
such as the EU, can be resisted and questioned. This paper rather suggests that Japan should
develop its own legal tools that would respond to the current issue of gender equality in a more
integrated and effective manner.

Keywords: Gender equality – Case Law – Japan – European Union – Comparison – Direct/Indirect Discrimination