UN Committee Pressures Japan to Regulate Games that "Reinforce Sexual Violence" Against Women

March 7, 2016

Back in February, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviewed Japan’s effort on implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women at Palais des Nations in Geneva.

At the time, the committee urged Japan to ban the sale of video games involving rape and sexual violence, alongside other form of media like anime and manga.

“Please indicate the measures taken to ban the sale of video games or cartoons involving rape and sexual violence against girls and women and to raise awareness among the producers of such materials, in line with the Committee’s general recommendation No. 19 on violence against women. Please also indicate the measures taken to address the mass production, distribution and use of pornographic videos in which women are targets of sexual violence, as well as the portrayal of sexualized commercial images of women.”

Today the the committee posted its findings, adopting a somewhat softer stance that encourages Japan to “effectively implement existing legal measures and monitoring programmes” (that the Japanese government mentioned as already in place in response to the previous request), but maintained that the games under exhamination “exacerbate discriminatory gender stereotypes and reinforce sexual violence against women and girls.”

“The Committee is particularly concerned that […] stereotypes continue to be the root causes of sexual violence against women and that pornography, video games and animation such as manga promote sexual violence against women and girls.”

“The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation (CEDAW/C/JPN/CO/6, para. 30) and urges the State party to […] effectively implement existing legal measures and monitoring programmes in order to regulate the production and distribution of pornographic material, video games and animation that exacerbate discriminatory gender stereotypes and reinforce sexual violence against women and girls.”

The “previous recommendation” reads as follow:

“It also urges the State party to strengthen its strategies to combat pornography and sexualization in the media and advertising and to report the results of the implementation in its next periodic report. It calls on the State party to take proactive steps including through encouraging the adoption and implementation of self-regulatory measures to ensure that media production and coverage are non-discriminatory and promote positive images of girls and women, as well as increase awareness of these issues among media proprietors and other relevant actors in the industry.”

At the moment the Japanese government did not issue a response, but a few days ago Kumiko Yamada from the Women’s Institute of Contemporary Media Culture wrote a strongly worded reply to CEDAW’s initial demands (you can find a full translation here, courtesy of Reddit user RyanoftheStars).

Yamada-san argued that, while she very much agrees with the need to protect the rights of women in Japan, banning the sale of video games and manga in the country has nothing to do with it, mentioning that sexual violence against fictional characters isn’t a violation of human rights, and we should instead focus on when the rights of real women are impacted.

She also mentioned that a lot of the media that includes sexual violence is actually produced by female artists themselves, and a ban would influence the work of those women, actually creating a discriminatory situation.

As Yamada-san explained, especially when manga are concerned, sexual violence is a very common topic in shojo manga and josei manga (manga for girls and manga for ladies), the large majority of which is indeed drawn by female authors. Of course, in most cases it has nothing to do with pornography, but it’s used as a relevant plot point. CEDAW’s original recommendations made no distinction, and risked to impact this kind of production as well.

Yamada-san’s concluded that the committee might feel that it accomplishes something by fighting fictional sexual violence, but while they focus on fighting it when it’s against fictional characters, the violation of the human rights of real women is left unaddressed.

Whether the Japanese government will take further action against Japanese games portraying sexual violence against women or not remains to be seen. We’ll keep you posted if there will be further developments on the issue.

Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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