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Monday, June 18, 2018

Abe pledges zero tolerance on sexual harassment

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Japan's prime minister on Tuesday pledged zero tolerance on sexual harassment, ordering senior officials to undergo training to prevent abuse after a scandal involving a top government bureaucrat. "Sexual harassment is a clear violation of human rights. It must never be tolerated," Shinzo Abe told a panel of ministers.

"We ask each one of the ministers to implement this emergency measure in a swift manner," he said, referring to a new policy that will require senior bureaucrats to undergo anti-sexual harassment training. The training will be tied to promotion for bureaucrats in a bid to ensure the success of the effort.

The initiative comes after a senior Finance Ministry official was forced to resign following allegations he sexually harassed female reporters. He denied the allegations, but a ministry probe found them credible and docked his retirement pay.

The Finance Ministry came under fire for its handling of the allegations, with Finance Minister Taro Aso initially appearing to dismiss them, and the ministry then asking women to come forward publicly with details of their experiences.

The scandal proved an additional headache for Abe, whose government was already under fire over two cronyism scandals - one of which involves the scrubbing of documents by the Finance Ministry.

Abe has made increasing female participation in the workforce a key plank of his economic policies as Japan struggles with a labor shortage. But he has failed to make significant headway, with men still dominating public offices, boardrooms and academia in Japan.

Japan ranked bottom among Group of Seven countries in the World Economic Forum's latest "Global Gender Gap Report", coming 114th worldwide. The global #MeToo movement has also not gained much traction in the country, though some observers said the outcry over the Finance Ministry case suggested a reckoning was coming.

Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda, who also serves as women's empowerment minister, pushed for the new policy, which calls for ministries to improve their handling of allegations of wrongdoing, whether from staff or outsiders. "This does not require new laws. We already have programs in place, but they are not being properly administered," she told reporters.

"Young people are going through these training sessions, but senior people in positions of power, who might potentially carry out abusive actions, must realize that sexual harassment is a violation of human rights," she said.

-AFP, Tokyo

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