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Sunday, Dec. 3, 2000

BITTEN BY ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM

Women's groups decry foundation's demise


Staff writer

A recent Tokyo Metropolitan Government announcement that it plans to abolish the Tokyo Women's Foundation to save tax money has sparked protests among citizens' groups promoting gender equality.

Although the metro government said it will continue to promote gender-equality issues, feminists worry that the foundation's demise signifies a step away from moves to create an equal society.

"I never imagined the metropolitan government would move to abolish the foundation after it has just established an ordinance on men and women's equal participation in society," said Mitsuko Yamaguchi, a foundation trustee and executive director of the Fusae Ichikawa Memorial Association, a leading feminist organization.

"It's very regrettable that the move comes at a time when the foundation should be playing a greater role (in helping achieve the aims of the ordinance)."

Established eight years ago, the foundation has supported research and activities on feminist issues. Since 1995, its operations have been based at the Tokyo Women's Plaza, which the metro government opened in Shibuya Ward as an activity center to address women's issues.

According to the plan announced last week, the metro government will directly operate the Tokyo Women's Plaza after the foundation is abolished.

The abolition is a part of the metro government's plan to cut to 47 the 62 affiliated bodies it supports in terms of finance and human resources to help alleviate the city's serious financial troubles. It had 20 trillion yen in debt at the end of fiscal 1998.

Under the administrative reform project, an initiative of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, the city hopes to cut spending by 72 billion yen by fiscal 2003 by streamlining organizations and cutting 950 workers and 42 executive directors from its payroll.

Over the past year, the 62 organizations were subject to a thorough review of their original goals, current needs and management conditions. While most will be merged with other bodies, the Tokyo Women's Foundation was one of two the government decided to abolish altogether.

The foundation's activities, however, will be taken over by the metro government's Citizens and Cultural Affairs Bureau. And officials say the switch will have little effect.

"Basically, there will be no change in the programs that have been conducted by the Tokyo Women's Foundation (after the bureau takes over)," said Yasuaki Kitamura, chief of the bureau's Gender Equity Section.

"We will further promote policies on women's issues while tackling such problems as domestic violence and stalking," he said.

The main thing, bureau officials say, is that the foundation's abolishment will save about 72 million yen -- mainly in payroll costs -- of the annual 540 million yen the government spends on the foundation and its projects.

Still, for feminist movement supporters who campaigned hard over many years for the establishment of the foundation and the Tokyo Women's Plaza, the decision is difficult to accept.

The 1995 establishment of the plaza came 16 years after the metro government opened a tiny information center for women in a corner of the Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya Library in Chiyoda Ward.

Currently, about 220,000 people use the plaza annually. It is a two-story 4,566-sq.-meter facility with a hall, three conference rooms, an audiovisual room and a library containing about 46,000 volumes mainly on women's issues.

The plaza provides counseling services for individuals on sexual harassment, domestic violence and judicial problems.

"The number of phone calls to the counseling services, especially concerning domestic violence, is increasing, and the conference rooms as well as the library have been fully used," said Keigo Sugawara, secretary general and assistant superintendent of the plaza.

"The role of this place is becoming more and more important," he said.

From its 30 million yen annual budget, the foundation has also provided financial assistance of up to 3 million yen to some 30 to 50 groups to conduct projects or research in the field.

Despite assurances that the projects will be maintained, plaza users have expressed concern over the possibility that these projects may also be scaled back in the future due to financial constraints.

"I am worried that the abolition of the foundation may cause a decline in policies on women's issues eventually," said Chieko Akaishi, a representative of the Women's Democratic Club, a citizens' group making use of the Tokyo Women's Plaza.

Women's groups also claim the decision to abolish the foundation was made too quickly and without hearing plaza users' opinions.

"If Gov. Ishihara had been better informed of our activities and opinions on the issue, Tokyo might have judged that it has to maintain the foundation even if it is costly," Yamaguchi of the Fusae Ichikawa Memorial Association said.

Technically, the foundation cannot be dissolved without approval from more than 75 percent of the 15-member board of trustees and the 11-member board of directors.

But as funding will stop from next fiscal year, it is practically impossible for the foundation to protest the decision even if the executive boards disagree with the plan.

In an effort to stop the abolition, 49 women's organizations have jointly submitted a petition urging Ishihara to maintain the foundation in its current form. They are also planning to submit similar petitions to the chairman of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

Yamaguchi said that if the Tokyo Metropolitan Government believes the foundation's role has already been completed, it indicates that the government does not understand the best way to promote gender equality.

"The policy is not completed only by establishing related laws and ordinances," Yamaguchi said.

"To improve systems is just the first step. The important thing is what we do based on the systems. The Tokyo Women's Foundation should lead the activities," she said.

Others affected by streamlining In a streamlining plan unveiled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government last week, two metro-subsidized bodies will be closed and six others merged with organizations with similar tasks.

The Tokyo Women's Foundation, a foundation that provides financial and technical assistance to private welfare organizations, will be shut down in March 2002.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Community Welfare Foundation, which has been subsidizing nursing homes and training caregivers, will also be closed in March 2002.

The local government said the review was initiated with the start of the nation's public nursing care insurance system in April.

The Tokyo International Trade Fair Commission will be merged with the Tokyo International Trade Center Corp. in fiscal 2003.

The commission operates Tokyo Big Sight, an international exhibition center on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay, and sponsors a variety of events. According to the metro government, Tokyo Big Sight is only running at 57 percent of capacity on average.

The plan also proses the termination of some of the projects run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation of Lifelong Learning and Culture.

Among them are open college courses, which are scheduled to end in March 2002.

According to the foundation, three-month courses attracted a total of 12,500 attendants last year. The courses deal with the cultural history of Tokyo, international affairs, world history, natural science and computing.



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