Married Japanese Women Fight To Use Their Birth Surnames At Work

Women's rights advocates have urged the government to allow women to make their own choices about their names.
by F. Valencia
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The New York Times reports that there's a growing trend among women in Japan to use their birth surnames in the workplace even after they've married.

The report explains: "Under a Japanese law that dates back to the Meiji era, more than a century ago, all married couples must use one surname. In theory, a couple may choose either the husband’s or the wife’s last name, but in practice, 96 per cent of women assume their husband’s. There's also a legal prohibition against separate surnames for married couples."

Despite this, an increasing number of employers in Japan now allow women to use their birth surnames. Technically, though, this isn't allowed under the law.

The report cited the case of a teacher in her 30s who had worked for 15 years using her birth surname. She recently got married. However, since she was already professionally known at the school by her birth name, she wanted to keep using it on letters home to parents, attendance records, and report cards. She wanted this to be legit, so she formally filed a petition in court.

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Unfortunately, the Tokyo District Court ruled that her employer, a private school in the same area, "could not be compelled to let her use her birth surname at work."

That's basically a "nice" (for lack of a better word) way of saying she isn't really allowed to keep using her birth surname even in a professional capacity. The three Tokyo District Court judgesall menreportedly pointed out that while surveys show that about a quarter of women use their original surnames in the workplace, they thought that doing so was "not deeply rooted in society."

As the report indicated: "The marital naming law, supported by many conservatives who believe that women belong predominantly in the home supporting their husbands and families, is seen by some as another vestige of discrimination against women in Japanese society."

As such, women's rights advocates have urged the government to allow women to make their own choices about their names.

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