Carnegie Council Congratulates Sayaka Osakabe of Japan on her International Women of Courage Award

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Congratulations to Sayaka Osakabe, who has become a national symbol of women’s rights in Japan, leading a highly publicized and successful campaign against ‘matahara,’ (pregnancy harassment and discrimination).

Osakabe in her apartment, November 2014. CREDIT: Devin Stewart, Carnegie Council

Osakabe in her apartment, November 2014. CREDIT: Devin Stewart, Carnegie Council

Osakabe, 37, has become something of a national symbol of women’s rights, leading a highly publicized campaign against ‘matahara,’ [maternity harassment] a term she has turned into a buzzword for pregnancy discrimination

On March 5, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom will present 10 extraordinary women from 10 countries with the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. First Lady Michelle Obama will join Deputy Secretary Higginbottom and the awardees as a special guest at the ceremony.

One of these 10 remarkable women is Sayaka Osakabe from Japan. As part of his ongoing research on the changing status of women in Japan, Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Devin Stewart interviewed Osakabe at her Kawasaki, Japan, apartment in November 2014.

“It’s rewarding to see Carnegie Council’s principle of ‘equality of voice’ and my own research on Japan touch the policy world,” Stewart said. “That the State Department has recognized this extraordinary woman speaks to the power of this universal value.”        

As Stewart explained in his January 2015 Foreign Affairs article, “Abenomics Meets Womenomics: Transforming the Japanese Workplace”:

“Osakabe, 37, has become something of a national symbol of women’s rights, leading a highly publicized campaign against ‘matahara,’ [maternity harassment] a term she has turned into a buzzword for pregnancy discrimination.”

Osakabe was dismissed from her job when she got pregnant, and after two stress-related miscarriages, she founded "Matahara Net" to help other women. One of those women won the landmark Japan Supreme Court Supreme Court case in October 2014 ruling against pregnancy discrimination. Osakabe’s courage to speak out has spurred government and civil society action, including the Government of Japan official notice on January 23, 2015 that dismissals and demotions of pregnant women are presumed illegal.

For more on women in Japan, see Carnegie Council’s podcast Womenomics and Culture Change in Japan, with Devin Stewart, Malli Gero, Lin Kobayashi, Ken Shibusawa, and Julia Taylor Kennedy.

On March 16, together with Asia Society, Carnegie Council is holding a public event in New York City, called Womenomics: An Economic and Social Roadmap for Japan, with Carol Gluck (Columbia University), Joanna Barsh (McKinsey), Naoko Ogawa (Keidanren business association), and moderator Richard Lui (MSNBC and NBC News).

Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1914, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an educational, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that produces lectures, publications, and multimedia materials on the ethical challenges of living in a globalized world. For more information, go to http://www.carnegiecouncil.org.

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Madeleine Lynn