Welcome to “Women Around the World: This Week,” a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week’s post, from December 18 to December 24, was compiled by Anne Connell and Becky Allen.
Japan’s top court upholds century-old surname law Last week, Japan’s Supreme Court upheld an 1896 law requiring married couples to share a surname. The case has been working its way through the Japanese justice system since 2011, when five female plaintiffs filed suit in two lower courts that rejected their claim. The lawsuit was initiated on the premise that the law violates civil rights and discriminates unduly against women, with particularly detrimental effects in professional settings. Although a 1947 revision of Japanese civil code permitted couples to choose whose name is to be shared by both partners, in practice, the husband’s name is adopted in ninety-six percent of marriages today. Many socially conservative voices—both in government and the broader public—staunchly oppose any legal change, viewing it as a threat to Japan’s traditional family structures. Some argue that this decision undermines Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” strategy, which aims to remove legal barriers to women’s economic participation and create legislation that brings more women into the country’s stagnated workforce.
Protest in India over release of 2012 Delhi rapist Indian officials reported this week that one of the convicted rapists in the fatal 2012 Delhi gang rape of medical student Jyoti Singh would be released after spending three years in a detention center. In the direct aftermath of the 2012 attack, massive protests broke out across the country, with thousands taking to the streets to express outrage over the brutality of the assault, the failings of the Indian criminal justice system, and the broader crisis of violence against women. While four perpetrators were sentenced to death and one died in prison, the sixth was a juvenile at the time of the attack, just shy of his 18th birthday. His release this week sparked a new wave of protests and civil society activism, resulting in a controversial bill passed on Tuesday that will allow juvenile defendants charged with “heinous” crimes to be tried as adults in the future.
Rise in female billionaires in Asia Although most of the world’s wealthiest women have amassed fortunes through inheritance from family dynasties, a growing number of women in Asia are self-made billionaires. A report released this week finds that not only is the rise in female billionaires most rapid in Asia, but more than half of these billionaires are first-generation entrepreneurs. This draws a sharp contrast with the US and Europe, where just 19% and 7% respectively of women tycoons are self-made. Men still vastly outnumber women in the ranks of global billionaires, but the number of female billionaires worldwide has increased seven-fold over the past twenty years, outpacing the five-fold increase in male billionaires. The report cites shifting social attitudes about gender roles, advances in women’s education, and booming economies as potential reasons for the rise. Asia has seen significant gains in girls’ education over the past ten years, including sharp declines in illiteracy, advances in primary education for girls, and an increase in the number of women in university relative to men. Many of the new billionaires are educated women who have taken advantage of accelerated industrial and consumer revolutions in Asia and surging real estate prices.