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Doctoring the results: bias against female students unmasked

Many women in Japan have recently discovered what they suspected all along that their dream of becoming doctors was shattered by the decision of several prestigious medical schools across the country that rigged their entry exam papers. These were marked down to stop them from pursuing a career in the medical field and ensure that more men than women were enrolled. The scandal, first uncovered at the Tokyo Medical University, quickly extended to other medical schools.

Last week the school admitted that the practice has been customary for more than ten years. Tetsuo Yukioka, Director of Tokyo Medical University in a press conference stated “We deeply apologize for having inconvenienced and caused people pain with such a serious scandal […] Society is changing rapidly and we need to respond to that and any organization that fails to recognize women will grow weak. And we fail to contribute to society.” He also stated that he was not aware of the rigging and that he was never involved.

The news came to light during an investigation regarding the son of an education ministry official and how he was allegedly admitted in order for the school to obtain research funds. Both the bureaucrat and the former head of the school were charged with bribery. The revelations have generated such a wide echo around the world to prompt the education ministry to order an investigation at many medical schools across Japan. Following this outbreak, the Education Ministry asked many medical schools to provide six years-worth of data on the genders and ages of all applicants.

The Tokyo Medical University kept the female student population at 30 percent, due to concerns about female doctors’ leaving their career following pregnancy and to take care of their children. The message is clear: since women will eventually quit their jobs to start a family, there is no point bothering with education! Let’s let the men do the heavy lifting.

In Japan women are massively underrepresented in politics, certain professions including medicine, and as company executives, accounting for more than 40% of the workforce. According to a 2017 World Economic Forum survey, Japan ranked as 114th in a list of 144 countries for gender equality. The lack of female doctors positions Japan well behind other advanced countries. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2015 Japan had 21 percent of female doctors against the OECD average of 45 percent.

That Japanese companies are more likely to promote men than women was known; however, the malpractice carried nowadays by educational institutions of denying female applicants entry in one of the most advanced economies in the world carries a very powerful weight. When it comes to equal opportunities, some societies are way behind.

Interestingly enough, a Japanese Internet portal Joy.net conducted a survey of Japanese female doctors, asking for their opinion on Tokyo Medical University’s test score manipulation, and found their responses rather surprising as they expressed understanding as to why the score was rigged. In other words, if even women justify the reason behind the rigging, that demonstrates that acceptance of gender inequality is so deeply ingrained in the female psyche that women do not fully embrace the concept of being on par with men; or to put it bluntly they have come to accept dishonesty and discrimination.

Furthermore, if it is true that women are more likely to quit their jobs after they get married and have children, then it is time for their male counterparts to take their share of childrearing responsibilities and for the Japanese society to create a work environment where it’s easier for female doctors to return to the workforce after maternity leave. In other words, it is time to start a discussion nationwide about putting in place a gender balanced policy in all professions across the country.