This letter of appeal was sent by Japanese abolitionists to the Japanese government to protest a COVID-19 discriminatory welfare policy. Soon after this letter was sent, the government announced it would reconsider the exclusion.
To: The Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, Mr Kato Katsunobu
Provision of relief funds to parents of primary-school aged children working as independent contractors affected by Japan’s Covid-19 school shut-down: Appeal for the funding scheme to include women in the sex industry
6 April 2020
On 10 March 2020 Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announced that relief funds to parents of primary-school aged children working as independent contractors affected by the Covid-19 school shut-down would not be extended to people in the sex industry or in related hostess bar venues. We oppose this discriminatory exclusion, and appeal for funding to include women in Japan’s sex industry.
In item (11.1) of its 10 March announcement, the Ministry lists people in the following businesses as excluded from the funds relief scheme: People working in businesses registered under Article 2.4 and 2.5 of Japan’s Act on Control and Improvement of Amusement Business, etc. classified as either ‘hostessing and alcohol provision’ venues or ‘sex-related specially designated’ venues. Namely, those undertaking a) hostessing activities, b) touting activities for sex-related businesses, and c) activities relating to venues showing live-sex acts or stripping, or venues offering sexual companionship or conversation. Examples of such businesses include cabaret clubs, wet-massage parlours, escort agencies, and other similar customer-service venues that employ mostly women.
Japan is an extremely unequal society divided by wealth and sex. The poverty of single mothers in Japan is particularly serious, and most are unable to secure anything but highly precarious employment. Accordingly, there are many single mothers, or partnered impoverished mothers, who face no choice but to be prostituted in Japan’s sex industry, which is nothing but a business of sexual exploitation, to escape poverty. Even in hostessing businesses and venues mediating other forms of sexual contact there are problems of unchecked exploitation, such as non-payment of wages to women servicing male customers, indenture through debt contracts, and pimping.
Accordingly, rather than exclusion from the Ministry’s relief scheme, it is precisely women in hostessing and sex businesses in Japan who should be first-in-line targeted recipients of funds. We must protect the right of such individuals to transition to employment in another industry after the shutdown period if they choose, and towards this end we must extend to them financial, legal and medical assistance. In Sweden and South Korea there are national networks of human rights centres, including facilities run by feminists, who operate to assist women in the sex industries of those countries. Their assistance includes consultation and refuge housing, and government assistance to transition to employment in other industries. This kind of approach is what genuinely developed countries adopt in relation to women in the sex industry.
On this basis, we urge the Ministry to include women in Japan’s sex industry in the assistance scheme offered to others in relation to the schools shut-down.
Akane Onozawa (Rikkyo University)
Puja Kim (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)
Hiroshi Nakasatomi (Osaka Electro-Communication University)