Sunday, 11 April, 2021

The Surname Debate

Bini Dahal

We now see a very common practice among newly married couples around the world. Wives take the surname of their husbands, dropping the surnames of their parents. While this is not compulsory in most countries and women have the right to make necessary choices, there still exist some countries where laws regarding this matter are highly strong, leaving women with no choice at all.
Japan, in particular, is pretty strict about this. Under the country’s civil code, after marriage, couples are required to share the same surname. So, theoretically any surname, either husband's or wife's can be taken up. But the practice is quite different and it’s the women who drop their surname. This makes Japan the only industrialised nation where having different surnames for married spouses is considered illegal.
And this requirement is not something new. It was first introduced in 1896 during the Meiji era (1868-1912) when it was common for Japanese women to leave their family and become a part of their husband’s family. This shows how much influence a hundred years old law has on the country. Explaining as to why the law is the same as it was before, the Japanese government has stated that changing laws can destroy social structure based on family units. This is because Japan is an avid follower of the traditional koseki (family-registry) system which is based upon single-surname households.
It’s not like everyone is satisfied with the law. A growing number of people (both men and women) are raising their voices against it. A poll conducted by Chinjyo Action and Waseda University in October last year states that 71 per cent of people believed that women should be provided with the choice to keep or remove their birth name. What is highly appreciable about this issue is that the debate is not being framed in terms of women’s rights or in terms of feminism. Rather, people are explaining it from human rights perspective. Their point is that changing the birth names can create an equal impact upon both males and females.
The connectedness of this issue is highly dangerous. If the law is given continuity, many people will not marry (to protect their individual identity that they get from their birth names) and subsequently, there will be no possibility of childbirth. And in a country where childbirth is decreasing at an alarming rate, the entire Japanese society will have to suffer more.
Relating the whole surname debate with Nepal, there are only percentages of women who actually retain their surname. Maximum proportion of married women either takes up their husband's surnames or adds both the surnames. This indicates Nepal's need to change as well.
As humans, freedom of choice is our biggest asset. Everyone wants the freedom to make their own choices. Fixing dos and don’ts on matters concerning choices cannot be considered good. Therefore, Japan should give special attention to this matter and work on ensuring satisfaction among its citizens. As representatives of people, politicians and the higher-ups should provide enough support and not belittle them.
It is also necessary for Japan to maintain gender equality for creating a better country and a better world. The Japanese government wants to an increase in the number of female workers in its workforce. But, gender inequality within the country is a major concern to ponder over.