A defender for Japan's battered women
Having worked as a telephone operator for 40 years and raised three children, Mie Ueda, a resident of Hirakata, Japan, finally retired in December 1993to enjoy long-awaited free time.Skip to next paragraph
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Her days were filled with luncheons and teas with her friends, gym workouts, and water aerobics lessons. She and her husband traveled to hot springs and made occasional overseas trips. This is what many Japanese dream of after they retire.
Ms. Ueda, however, found it "boring." So she began thinking about using her work experience to fulfill a longtime dream - helping other women. As she was wondering how to do that, sheran into an old acquaintance - a city council member, who told her about the problem of domestic violence.
Little did Ueda, who had never before heard the term domestic violence, realize that she would soon become one of the most visible activists in the fight against a widespreadbut little-discussedproblem.
According to a nationwide government survey in 2000, 27.5 percent of Japanese wives said they had been beaten by their husbands, and 4.6 percent of women in another study said spousal abuse had put them in a life-threatening situation. (Estimates of domestic violence against women in the US vary widely, but tend to range from less than 1 percent to a little more than 3 percent, according to the Family Violence Prevention Fund.)
Experts and activists argue, however, that since many Japanese still regard violence against women not as a violation of their human rights but as a "family matter" - a quarrel between husband and wife - the actual number of cases in that country is probably much larger than reported.
In 1996, no publicly funded shelters existed in Japan solely for victims of domestic violence. (They were mandated by law in 2001.) There were probably fewer than 30 privately funded shelters to serve the entire country.
That April, Ueda established a group called Space Enjo (Assistance). She spent 45,000 yen (about $425) of her own retirement money every month to rent a two-room apartment as an emergency shelter for battered women in Osaka, the largest city in western Japan.
Soon she was swamped with pleas for help from victims, and was appalled when some women arrived with black eyes and purplish bruises. She knew then that the situation was more serious than she had thought.
Within two years, lack of shelter space for victims became an issue at Space Enjo. So, in 1998 she rented a second apartment. Then the need for better security became an issue when some husbands tried to get into the shelters. In 2001, Ueda borrowed 24 million yen (about $226,000) from the Government Housing Loan Corp. and from her husband and daughter to purchase a four-room condominium with a state-of-the-art security system.
The three locations can accommodate 10 women (and their children, if necessary) at a time.
Since it opened, Space Enjo has sheltered more than 300 women and children. Victims are of diverse nationalities, with ages varying from 17 to 78. Ueda and other volunteers help the women meet with lawyers, real-estate agents, government employees, and others who can help them. The organization also continues to provide guidance long after the stays end, so victims can learn to become more self-reliant.
Some battered women who come to the shelters have suffered from what Ueda calls a "full course" of domestic violence, in which the husband assaults the wife physically, psychologically, and economically.
One of the worst cases she recalls was that of "Sachi." (Ueda requested that Sachi's real name not be used.)
By the time she was in her mid-50s, Sachi had been smacked, kicked, and punched by her husband. He had twisted her arms, thrown her against the front door, kicked her out of the house, and left her lying there, too debilitated to move or even say a word.
He was so autocratic that she needed his permission just to go to the bathroom. Sachi, who weighed 110 pounds when she married, had lost 37 pounds.
Her husband, a government employee who worked in its welfare division, had a good reputation at work. He often invited his colleagues home, even late at night, and made her serve them a full-course dinner. One night she washed more than a hundred dishes. As soon as the guests left, he started punching her, yelling at her, "You humiliated me."
Sachi was finally able to divorce him after 25 years.