A group of Japanese women filed a challenge yesterday to a 19th century law that compels almost all females to drop their maiden names and assume their husbands’ surnames when they marry.
The landmark case, launched before the Tokyo District Court, is seen as a test for the rights of women, who continue to struggle against gender stereotypes and remain under-represented in politics and corporate boardrooms.
CIVIL CODE CLAUSE
Japan’s Civil Code stipulates that married couples must share one surname — in practice almost always that of the husband, although some men have assumed their wives’ names, often if the women come from noble families.
The plaintiffs — four women and the husband of one of them — argue that the Civil Code clause dating back to 1898 breaches the constitutional guarantee of equal rights for both spouses.
The individuals from Tokyo, Kyoto and Toyama are also demanding a total of ￥6 million (US$70,000) in damages for their emotional distress, a higher amount than the group had announced earlier, their lawyers said.
Hopes for a revision of the Civil Code rose after the center-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took power in September 2009, ending half a century of conservative rule, and pushed for an immediate change.
However, the reform withered as the DPJ’s small coalition partner, the People’s New Party, strongly opposes the move, a position shared by many other conservative politicians in Japan.
Public opinion is sharply divided on the issue. In a recent government survey, 37 percent of respondents said they supported a revision of the code, while 35 percent were against.