Japanese Woman Fights Maternity Harassment, Gets Award from the US

May 25, 2015

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. empowerment / ɪmˈpaʊəmənt / (n.) – the act of giving the power or ability to do something
ExampleThe organization promotes the empowerment of single mothers.

2. miscarriage / mɪsˈkær ɪdʒ / (n.) – a condition in which a woman loses her baby because her pregnancy ended too early
Example: My pregnant sister takes extra care of herself to avoid miscarriage.

3. forbidden / fərˈbɪd n / (adj.) – banned or prohibited
Example: Smoking is forbidden in the office premises.

4. discrimination /dɪˌskrɪm əˈneɪ ʃən / (n.) – the unfair treatment of a person or a group
ExampleShe spoke about the discrimination of women in the workplace.

5. demote / dɪˈmoʊt / (v.) – to move an employee from a higher rank to a lower one
Example: He got demoted because of his consistent bad performance at work.


Read the text below.
A Japanese woman was one of the recipients of the U.S. International Woman of Courage Award presented in Washington earlier this year.

The awardee, Sayaka Osakabe, is the first Japanese to receive this award given to those who advocate the empowerment of women. The U.S. State Department commended Osakabe for her fight against “matahara”, which is short for maternity harassment.

Osakabe began her advocacy against matahara because she herself suffered harassment when she was pregnant. During Osakabe’s second pregnancy, her employer told her to resign because she was allegedly causing problems for being absent frequently. To avoid losing her job, she forced herself to go to work. But because of stress from work, Osakabe suffered a miscarriage.

Maternity harassment is forbidden by the Japanese law. However, many women still go through the same experience as Osakabe. Early this year, the Japanese Trade Union surveyed 1,000 women between 20 to 49 years old, all of whom have worked while pregnant. Out of the surveyed women, 21% were mistreated, 10% were verbally harassed, while around 8% have been laid off because of being pregnant.

To help other victims of matahara, Osakabe established Matahara Net. It is a non-profit organization that supports women who still want to work even after giving birth. One of the women helped by this organization has, in fact, won her case against pregnancy discrimination in October 2014.

Encouraged by Osakabe’s case, the Japanese government has now taken action towards addressing maternity harassment. On January 23, 2015, the government officially illegalized firing and demoting pregnant women.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A 

·         Do you support Osakabe’s advocacy against matahara? Why or why not?
·         Why do you think pregnant women are often harassed in the workplace?

Discussion B

·         What other types of harassment can happen in the workplace?
·         How can these types of harassment be prevented or avoided?

May 25, 2015