Newly appointed One Young World Japan Director, Rui Nagamori, talks with Ayano Sakurai about her Gender Equality project.
Please tell us how you started the “What is Gender Equality” project that you are currently working on.
When I was a university student, I worked for the local government as a member of the Gender Equality Promotion Committee to create a plan for gender equality in my hometown.
I was the only university student on the committee, and the other members were mostly professionals in their 40s or older, as well as people from the local community. Despite that, my opinions were well received. I wondered, “…if the local government is so receptive to youth opinions, why can’t the more important national level be?”
At that time, the 5th Basic Plan for Gender Equality was about to be formulated, and I was approached by JOICFP, a public interest incorporated foundation that I have known since I was a student. They asked me, “Why don’t you do something to make youth more active?”
The Fifth Basic Plan for Gender Equality is about the next five years, and the next five years are a critical period that will determine the future, especially for youth. There are actually a lot of youth who are dissatisfied with the current situation or have something to say, and they post a lot on social networking sites. Unfortunately, though, they haven’t been able to actually take real action. So, I decided to create a project to help them do that.
What do you think has changed as a result of the creation of the “What is Gender Equality” project?
When I was a representative of an organization as a student during my university days, I felt that it was faster and easier to work alone and make decisions on my own. But, now I see the importance and power of solidarity by forming teams with other members.
I’m always thinking about how to keep other members motivated or even raise their motivation. I hardly used to think deeply about negative opinions about my projects before. Now, I am able to think more deeply about why these people have these opinions. I think I’m also able to utilize the skills I acquired in my previous job more productively.
It’s hard to see results immediately when you’re in the thick of it. When did you realize that you were doing the right thing?
It’s so nice to get comments that show that we’ve made a direct positive impact. For example, “The Cabinet Office’s website is now cute!” or “It’s so much easier to send my opinion!” or “I used to think that gender equality was only for women. But now, I know that men and other non-gender specific people can also send in their opinions!”
I’ve collected signatures up to the last minute. We had a lot of hard work to do but, it was really satisfying.
“My parents had a very positive influence on me. They were self-employed and I think I naturally acquired the mindset of trial and error by watching them take on various challenges. “
When did you first become interested in the issue of gender equality?
It was in my second year of high school that I originally became interested in gender issues.
One of my classmates told me, “You’re a girl, so you should just be pretty.” I had actually thought that such a concept was already a thing of the past. But, I was shocked to learn that we still live in a society where people say and think things like that!
From there, I began to learn more about the current situation of girls in developing countries, who are in even more difficult circumstances. Some of these girls have dreams such as “I want to become president!” or “I want to eliminate female genital mutilation.” I was shocked to find out that Japanese youth have become too accustomed to living in the box of “being a man or a woman” in a negative way and my interest gradually shifted to activating these youth in more positive ways.
Is there anyone in particular that you look up to as a role model?
I was fortunate to have been taken care of by older women who had been working for women’s rights in Japan since I was a student. I was taken to the UN conference in New York, and was encouraged many times. I think it was because of their presence that I was able to continue my work. I still have strong connections with them, and I would like to continue learning learning from them. They’re always positive, humble, willing to learn and share, and keep that fire of passion burning inside!
The issue of gender equality is a sensitive one and can be very stressful. How do you balance your personal and professional lives?
I think the most important thing for me to continue this kind of activity is to keep myself positive and healthy. If your mental and physical state is unbalanced or negative, the things you send out will become more and more backward-looking.
Nowadays, we are living in a world of information overload. So, I believe that one of the best ways to stay away from social networking sites and the Internet is to have other tangible hobbies. Gender issues are not something that can be solved overnight, and it will be a long battle. That’s why it’s important for me to maintain a good balance and keep myself in a position to continue my work for a long, long time.
How do you refresh and recharge?
In my free time, I enjoy handcrafts. I like things that are made by hand, so I collect beautiful tiles from different countries, make wooden plates, and so on. I feel very refreshed when I concentrate on the process of making things by hand.
I have always loved “beautiful things” and looking at what I consider to be beautiful is very soothing. I hope that feeling continues. It will be an bad sign for me when I no longer feel a crush on something that I used to think was beautiful. So, I think I need to reset from time to time to keep that feeling fresh and inspiring.
Interesting! Many people may not have such a reset method or mindset. How did you develop your own style? Have you ever thought about that?
My parents had a very positive influence on me. They were self-employed and I think I naturally acquired the mindset of trial and error by watching them take on various challenges. From a young age, I was taught to make my own choices and complete them on my own. But, I think that in Japan we still suffer from a fear of failure. I think there is a strong tendency to say, “If you fail, your life is over!” especially when students are job hunting despite the fact that job hunting is just the beginning of their careers!. If you fail, don’t you think you should just learn from it and start over again?
We were taught when we were just small kids that “everyone is different and everyone is good.” But, as soon as we enter school, we are told that we have to be the same as everyone else and taught that it is wrong to do things differently from others in the classroom. I felt very uncomfortable. Too many people here have a preconceived notion that “this is correct” and “that is wrong.” But, I wish I could tell them that there are answers other than that.
Lastly, please tell us what goals you would like to achieve in the future.
In the future, I would like to create a place where youth who are interested in solving gender issues can be employed. I would also like to be able to help them break down the barriers they feel by digging deeper into their own fears and bewilderment. I want to be able to help them break down the barriers they feel.
I think there are many people who have experienced negative thoughts because of their gender or, have begun to experience discrimination. I would like to tell people that it’s okay to say what you think is wrong, and that it’s okay to say what you think in general. I want to support them so that they can let out what they have been suppressing inside themselves for so long. In addition, I believe that if each and every one of us is able to raise such a voice, the speed toward gender equality will accelerate.