Women pay the price of recession

John Greenlees

Career-minded women students in Japan are going to extraordinary lengths to improve their job prospects during the country's worst recession since the Second World War Cosmetic surgeons who offer to reshape noses and eyelids have long waiting lists of students seeking"more striking and intelligent looks that will improve their chances of getting jobs".

Other students are enrolling at charm school to improve the way they walk, talk and dress at the crucial preliminary meetings and interviews with employers. Those who make a good impression initially, it is generally accepted, are more likely to progress to the final stages of the selection process.

With lifetime employment guarantees making it difficult for employers to shed surplus workers, companies have been forced to reduce drastically the number of school and university leavers they take on. And with companies reluctant to train women for management posts, they are the worst victims of the depression.

At the end of the 1993-94 academic year in March, several hundred thousand high school and university graduates were still without jobs. In previous years, most students had managed to secure jobs during their final year at school or university.

The number of school and university leavers left jobless is thought to be the highest for years, with women finding it hardest to find employment.

"Companies say they don't want to waste time training women who will probably forfeit their careers to become full-time wives and mothers," said Sachiko Ichimura, a high school teacher. "Many female high school and university graduates are forced to accept low-status office work instead."

Earlier this year, the shortage of career-orientated jobs for young women sparked a protest against sex discrimination in the Japanese job market. Several hundred women students shouted, "We want jobs, too!" as they marched past the offices of leading companies in Tokyo's main business district.

The government is preparing a series of job forums to give job-seekers greater access to recruiting companies. The first will take the form of "job fairs" in six major cities next year.

As well, the recession is encouraging more high school graduates to enrol for college or university. Almost half of Japan's 18-year-olds are expected to continue in further or higher education next year.

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John Greenlees

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