Japan: Symposium on Women and International Cooperation Commemorates Centenary of Birth of Yukika SOHMA

How We Can Play Our Part for World Peace

A celebration of the 100-year anniversary of AAR Japan founder and former chairperson Yukika SOHMA’s birth was held on June 16, 2012. The event, a symposium entitled Women and International Cooperation, was held in the U Thant International Conference Hall, United Nations University (UNU).
During her life, Ms. SOHMA spoke of an increasingly complicated international society in which “There will come a point in time when it won’t suffice to see this as a man’s world. At that moment, I hope that women throughout the world will be able to stand up and show their innate strengths.” The symposium gathered female guests to discuss the topic of international cooperation from a female perspective. Speakers included major contributors to society and international cooperation, as well as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ms. Jody WILLIAMS.

June 16th, 2012 – Roughly 300 guests braved the rain to attend the event. (UNU, U Thant International Conference Hall)

Part 1: Women and International Cooperation (Panel Discussion)
In the first part of the event, we invited several guests to the panel discussion: Ms. Mari YAMASHITA (Director of UN Information Centre (UNIC Tokyo)), Ms. Yoshiko KIJIMA (Senior Coordinator of Aid Policy and Management Division, International Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Ms. Minako SHIMADA (Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship Departments, Kao Corporation),  and Ms. Sayaka MURATA (Co-President of NPO Kamonohashi Project).

Ms. Yamashita joined the UN roughly 20 years ago. Due to the major role the UN played in the aftermath of the Cold War, she quickly found herself working in international politics. This experience formed the basis of her talk, in which she delved into the UN’s efforts toward peace-building and conflict resolution. Ms. Yamashita also discussed the UN’s recognition of the importance of women’s point of view, such as in policy making during the rebuilding of post-war nations. She also used her experience as a mother to offer advice on achieving a balance between work, family and life. “It’s beneficial to consider a variety of options together with your partner,” she said.

Ms. Mari YAMASHITA, Director of UN Information Centre (UNIC Tokyo)

Ms. KIJIMA, who was involved in the development and announcement of the ODA (Official Development Assistance) budget in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave an introductory explanation of the ministry’s plans for international cooperation, and continued by reminiscing about her motives for entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I wanted to spur development in the organization, thus helping Japan flourish on the international stage,” she said. She also recommended that tactics such as an assertive speaking style can help women take prominence in a predominantly male organization.

Ms. Yoshiko KIJIMA, Senior Coordinator of Aid Policy and Management Division, International Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ms. SHIMADA is engaged in business-based efforts for contributions to society. She spoke of encountering Japanese female NGO workers during her visit to Cambodia. “The trip opened my eyes to women’s potential in areas other than business,” she said. This led on to the introduction of a story from her acquaintance that Ms. Sadako OGATA, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees is the most famous Japanese person in Europe. She stressed the importance of international cooperation in the global community by linking a country’s contribution to its brand. In a traditionally male-driven global society, she added, “If a woman does not exert her presence in the world, nothing will change.”

Ms. Minako SHIMADA,  Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship Departments, Kao Corporation.

When she was 20 years old, Ms. MURATA started the Kamonohashi Project, which was set up to address the problem of child labor. She pointed out, “There are many victims of child labor in Asia – especially girls, due to their weaker position in society.” She also spoke of her difficulty not being taken seriously by government officials in her early days because she was young and female. Through careful planning, she turned her supposed disadvantages into advantages by using the media’s favorability towards youths to distribute information directly to a broad audience.

Ms. Sayaka MURATA, Co-President of NPO Kamonohashi Project.

Ms. Yukie OSA, President of AAR Japan and chairperson for the panel discussion, spoke about the organization’s founder, Ms. SOHMA. She quoted Ms. SOHMA’s statement, “Japan’s entry into the Second World War was born from Japan’s naivety, a solitary state entering into a stage of connected nations. We must never allow this to happen again.” She also took a moment to reflect on Ms. SOHMA’s enduring work ethic: She established AAR at the age of 67, and even visited AAR operations in Cambodia past the age of 80.
The first part of the symposium ended with a quote from Ms. SOHMA’s father, Yukio OZAKI, sometimes called the father of the Japanese constitution: “The platform for mankind always lies in the future.”

Part 2: Democracy and the Power of Women (Speech)

The second part of the symposium focused on the theme of Democracy and the Power of Women, addressed by 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ms. Jody WILLIAMS. Ms. Williams is recognized for her success in pursuit of laws abolishing the use of land mines. 

Ms. WILLIAMS began by speaking of Ms. SOHMA’s influence, reflecting, “Throughout her life she showed us that no matter how old they are, human beings can achieve significant things.” She continued by touching on the panel discussion’s topics, saying, “There are many hardships for women living in a world built from a man’s perspective, but to change that perspective is a woman’s job.”
In 2006, Ms. WILLIAMS established the Nobel Women’s Initiative to offer support for women worldwide. Working along with other female Nobel Peace Prize winners, it was founded under the notion that “We managed to show the world that if women combine their efforts, they can achieve great things.” Ms. WILIAMS also stressed the importance of accepting responsibility, and being productive in efforts beneficial to everyone in order to change an increasingly complicated world. To solve the world’s problems is a task which should be taken step by step, “Not just by women alone, but together with our male counterparts.”

Ms. Jody WILLIAMS. Ambassador of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Chairwoman of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
When asked from the floor, “How can I find something that I hold passion for and will be able to succeed at?” Ms. WILLIAMS answered firmly that people should “Strive to know what motivates them, what things they would most like to change... Even volunteering can be useful in the beginning. I also volunteered in the beginning, too.”
The 3-hour symposium finished with a round of applause from all corners of the hall. We offer our heartfelt gratitude to our guests and attendees, and hope that the discussions highlighted various paths we can take towards peace in today’s hectic world.

 *Complete script of Ms. William’s speech availablehere (English)

Ms. WILLIAMS Visits Fukushima Prefecture
On June 17-18, Ms. WILLIAMS visited Soma City, Minami-Soma City, and Iitate village in Fukushima Prefecture. While meeting with Soma City mayor Hidekiyo TACHIYA and Iitate Village mayor Norio KANNO, she observed first-hand the damage done by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. A nuclear power plant similar to the Fukushima Daiichi plant lies in Ms. WILLIAMS’ home state of Vermont (USA). After witnessing the scene of the evacuated Iitate village with her own eyes, she spoke of there being “A possibility of a similar accident occurring in the state of Vermont. Therefore, Fukushima Prefecture’s problem is also my own problem.”

Kodaka District, Minami-Soma City. At right is AAR President Ms. Yukie OSA.

At a temporary housing complex in Soma City, the KANNO family spoke of the time of the disaster, as well as their current living conditions.

A worker from the Iitate branch of Soma City’s fire station outlines the events at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

A casual chat with members of the broadcasting office during a visit to Fukushima Prefecture’s Soma Higashi Senior High School.

Miho FUKUI, Tokyo Office
Responsible for international cooperation-related research and surveys in the Tokyo office since April 2009..  After completing graduate school, was stationed as AAR Japan’s correspondent in the former Yugoslavia, after which she worked with an international cooperation committee on administrative projects for Sierra Leone refugee camps. (Born in Nagano Prefecture)