Women tak­ing on more front­line roles in Ja­pan’s Self-defense Forces

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The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - W Eekend | Inspiringpeople -

grow­ing num­ber of women in Ja­pan’s Self-defense Forces are en­ter­ing formerly male-dom­i­nated fields, with one re­cently be­com­ing the coun­try’s firstever fe­male fighter jet pi­lot.

“I want to be­come a full-fledged pi­lot, no dif­fer­ent from men,” Misa Mat­sushima, 1st Lt. of the Air Self-defense Force, told re­porters in late Au­gust af­ter a cer­e­mony at a base in the south­west­ern Ja­panese pre­fec­ture of Miyazaki, mark­ing the com­ple­tion of a train­ing course to be­come an F-15 fighter pi­lot.

The 26-year-old Mat­sushima, who stands just 159 cen­time­ters tall, had dreamed of be­com­ing a fighter pi­lot ever since watch­ing the hit movie “Top Gun” star­ring Tom Cruise, por­tray­ing young naval avi­a­tors, when she was in el­e­men­tary school.

“I’ll be glad if more women are mo­ti­vated to be­come fighter pi­lots be­cause of me,” she said.

The ASDF lifted the gen­der re­stric­tion on women op­er­at­ing fighter jets as well as re­con­nais­sance air­craft in Novem­ber 2015. Un­til then, Ja­pan’s Defense Min­istry had con­sid­ered the con­di­tions too se­vere for women be­cause of the ex­treme g-forces in­volved in fly­ing fighter jets, which at times make it dif­fi­cult for pi­lots to even breathe.

At the min­istry’s Joint Staff, which is in charge of the SDF’S en­tire oper­a­tion, some fe­male of­fi­cials from the Mar­itime Self-defense Force and ASDF now oc­cupy im­por­tant posts.

In the Ground Self-defense Force, women have taken on roles across a wide range of ac­tiv­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, the reg­i­men­tal com­man­der for lo­gis­tics sup­port, who leads some 700 sub­or­di­nates, is fe­male, while women have also be­come at­tack he­li­copter pi­lots and re­stric­tions on them be­com­ing tank driv­ers have been lifted.

The head of the 1st Es­cort Divi­sion of the MSDF, a four-ship squadron in­clud­ing the flag­ship he­li­copter car­rier “Izumo” with a crew of 1,000, is also a woman.

The min­istry has also started con­sid­er­ing al­low­ing women to work aboard sub­marines.

If the plan is put into ac­tion, the only re­stric­tions re­main­ing for fe­male mem­bers will be GSDF corps that han­dle haz­ardous sub­stances and the corps dis­patched to ar­eas where dust par­ti­cles are formed in the air.

These two corps are sub­ject to place­ment lim­i­ta­tions un­der the do­mes­tic La­bor Stan­dards Law -- from the view­point of pro­tect­ing women’s bod­ies from harm­ful sub­stances that could af­fect preg­nan­cies -ac­cord­ing to the Defense Min­istry.

While the re­cent trend of pro­mot­ing women to the front­lines in fields of na­tional defense re­flects the gov­ern­ment’s “fe­male em­pow­er­ment pol­icy,” the min­istry is also try­ing to utilise more fe­male mem­bers to ease a hu­man re­sources shortage.

As of the end of March, the num­ber of work­ing SDFS mem­bers stood at 226,789 out of the full quota of 247,154, a 91.8 per­cent suf­fi­ciency rate. The num­ber of women was 14,686, ac­count­ing for only 6.5 per­cent of the all mem­bers, al­though the min­istry says it aims to have more than 9 per­cent women by 2030.

To se­cure enough per­son­nel, a high­rank­ing min­istry of­fi­cial said it is “ur­gently nec­es­sary” to ap­point more women to a wider range of jobs in­clud­ing high-rank­ing posts, with the min­istry con­sid­er­ing mea­sures such as rais­ing the up­per limit on the job seeker’s age and the re­tire­ment age.

But ob­sta­cles stand in the way to adding more fe­male SDF mem­bers due to a lack of women’s fa­cil­i­ties, such as lodg­ings. Even the Na­tional Defense Acad­emy, the ed­u­ca­tional body that trains fu­ture of­fi­cer can­di­dates lo­cated in Yoko­suka, south of Tokyo, has lim­ited fa­cil­i­ties for women. The acad­emy re­stricted the quota for fe­male ap­pli­cants to 60 out of a to­tal of 480 po­si­tions, at the en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion held for fis­cal 2018.

Ren­o­va­tions are not only needed in the work­place to em­ploy more women but also at some train­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

“Al­though we’d like to boost the num­ber of fe­male of­fi­cers, we can’t pos­si­bly man­age it due to a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money re­quired to ren­o­vate the fa­cil­i­ties,” said an­other high-rank­ing min­istry of­fi­cial.

To cre­ate a more women-friendly work en­vi­ron­ment, the min­istry set up day-care cen­ters for chil­dren in­side some gar­risons and bases, and re­vised its sys­tem so that it can re-em­ploy for­mer fe­male work­ers who have left to raise chil­dren. Four women have been re­hired from Jan­uary through Septem­ber, based on the amended sys­tem.

“When we have to dis­patch our per­son­nel for nat­u­ral dis­as­ter res­cue op­er­a­tions or in­ter­na­tional mis­sions, fe­male mem­bers are in de­mand be­cause they are usu­ally eas­ier to talk with. We want to aim to be an or­gan­i­sa­tion with di­ver­sity,” said an­other top-rank­ing of­fi­cial.

Photo: Ky­odo

Misa Mat­sushima, 1st Lt. of the Air Self-defense Force, who be­came Ja­pan’s first-ever fe­male fighter jet pi­lot on Au­gust 23, 2018.

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