Women only get the secondhand information from husbands on the post-tsunami reconstruction

Patriarchal system and culture in the fisheries cooperative were manifested in the post-tsunami reconstruction processes in various ways. Women’s groups in the fisheries cooperatives are active in the communities, often initiate activities to protect the environment, but few women get the membership of the cooperatives.

ToshikoToshiko Moriai: President of the Iwate Association of Fisheries Cooperative’s Women’s Groups, Manager of the Omoe Fisheries Cooperative’s Women’s Group

Omoe is the easternmost peninsula in Iwate prefecture (map). The villages in Omoe have been prosperous in fisheries and the most of the population including women engage in fisheries. Women collect sea urchins, abalone and take part in the wakame farming, which are among the major products of Omoe.

The current population of Omoe is around 1,600 – around 50 were lost and another 50 moved out during and after the disaster. (The area was hit by the tsunamis around 40m high, http://www.geosociety.jp/hazard/content0054.html) A third of the households lost their houses. The fisheries have been active in Omoe and the people are recovering from the damage caused by the earthquakes and tsunami relatively fast.

Responding to the emergency, the fisheries cooperative (usually the local government) coordinated the relief goods distribution and shelters in Omoe.

I’ve been working as a manager of the women’s group with 289 members as part of the Omoe Fisheries Cooperative. I knew there have been meetings on the post disaster reconstruction at different levels including the fisheries cooperatives. I was shocked by the fact that women, even I as a leader of the women’s groups, did not directly receive the information on what were discussed in those meetings. We received the information only through someone, like husband who is a member of the cooperative.

Sometime later I attended one of the meetings – I was able to do so because the families of the cooperative members were invited if the members could not attend. When I raised my hand to ask some questions, I felt I was not welcome to do so. I am sure many women in the cooperatives have been felling the same. If I speak, often I receive threatening responses from men like “who do you think you are? Remember that the women’s group belongs to the cooperative”, “How dare you speak that much”, “How dare you do as much as you like”, “You would not get the share of the grant”.

The hurdle is high for women in fisheries to become members of the cooperative, particularly in Iwate Fisheries Cooperative, which Omoe fisheries cooperative is part of. Women who lost their husbands may become associate members, but not full membership. No women have positions in the committee. Patriarchal system and culture remain strong in the cooperative. It is not like that at home but outside the family women are not encouraged to speak and if speak, we will get harassment. You can see another example in the parent-teacher association. It is always mothers, women are actively involved in the activities but it is fathers, men who are listed as members.

On the other hand, women are not willing to take leadership. I heard that women working in the local government often said they were not interested in getting promoted and did not want to take senior positions.

The committee members were selected to steer the reconstruction conference in the local government of Iwate prefecture. There was only one woman, who was a nutritionist, selected among dozens of the committee members. Later on, responding to some criticism about it, “Women’s Reconstruction Conference” was held in September 2011. That is not the way, I felt.

Because of the law and policy on equal participation, women are included as members of various structures but they are very small number. I don’t think we can achieve real equal participation in that way. Women and men should accept and appreciate each other. I think that is the basis for equality. I don’t think we have reached to that level in the Iwate Fisheries Cooperative.


From the Open Symposium on Disaster and Women II by the NPO Centre for Education and Support for Women, Japan (http://shienkyo.com/)


–Omoe Fisheries Cooperative has been contributing to the environment of the sea through various measures. Eliminating synthetic detergents from Omoe, the campaign, “don’t sell, buy and use”, is one of them initiated by the Women’s Group.

–Omoe Fisheries Cooperative has been participating in and promoting the campaign against the Rokkasho nuclear recycle plant.




–According to the Art. 18 of the Law on Fisheries Cooperative, the individuals who reside within the area of the cooperative covers and engage in fisheries more than 90-120 days a year are eligible to become members of the cooperative. There is no provision on proper and sub membership in the law. ( http://goo.gl/guv8e )



Number of the members of the Fisheries Cooperatives in Japan

Women members








Number of the committee members in the Fisheries Cooperatives in Japan

Women members










Are women wives and mothers to cook and care? Lessons learnt through two mega-earthquakes

The media played up the patriarchal ideology exaggerating the stereotype of women as mothers and wives during the post-disaster period. The needs of women in diverse situations were hardly addressed.

aikawaYasuko Aikawa: journalist, researcher, policy advisor

After the East Japan earthquakes and tsunamis, at the Hanshin-Awaji earthquakes 17 years ago as well, attentions were paid more on the issues faced by the people in the shelters, schools and local communities. Women in those situations are expected to play a role as wives and mothers in cooking and caring. Gender responsive emergency relief was mostly about sanitary pads, diapers and powder milk to be included in the packages. Too much stress put on the role of women as wives and mothers ignored single women and women who do not have children.

The situations of single women, career women, students and single mothers who may be often too busy to participate in the “community” and did not or could not stay at the shelters which were mostly run by the communities and operated through the family units. Some of the women in career could not go back to work quickly or lost their positions because of the closure of the nurseries and day-care centers with nearly no other back up system. This kind of issue has rarely been paid attention to.

There are seminars and trainings organized for women to better prepare for emergencies. Most of them are about cooking and caring children and elderly people in emergency situations. There should be trainings for women to build leadership and improve their emergency management and coordination skills.

The importance of family bond and ties between people was elevated so much after the disaster, behind which the issues of domestic violence and divorces triggered by the disaster were missed out.

Society made people to think that those are relatively small personal matters about which people should not complain while others lost lives and houses. Then, the situation would never change. Those are the social issues, not individual problems, which should be raised and addressed in the society.

We had experiences during and after the Hanshin-Awaji earthquakes 17 years ago. I see a progress in that there are groups among people who raise the human rights issues during the emergency and disaster responses including rapes and sexual harassment. There are preparedness and support systems developed to address women’s vulnerability in patriarchal society.

However, not enough progress has been made in empowering women as actors to take initiative in preparing for and responding to the emergencies other than cooking and caring.


From the Open Symposium on Disaster and Women II by the NPO Centre for Education and Support for Women, Japan (http://shienkyo.com/)