, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 309-330
Date: 21 Jul 2010

Mission Completed? Changing Visibility of Women’s Colleges in England and Japan and Their Roles in Promoting Gender Equality in Science

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Abstract

The global community, from UNESCO to NGOs, is committed to promoting the status of women in science, engineering and technology, despite long-held prejudices and the lack of role models. Previously, when equality was not firmly established as a key issue on international or national agendas, women’s colleges played a great role in mentoring female scientists. However, now that a concerted effort has been made by governments, the academic community and the private sector to give women equal opportunities, the raison d’être of women’s universities seems to have become lost. This paper argues otherwise, by demonstrating that women’s universities in Japan became beneficiaries of government initiatives since the early 2000s to reverse the low ratio of women in scientific research. The paper underscores the importance of the reputation of women’s universities embedded in their institutional foundations, by explaining how female scientific communities take shape in different national contexts. England, as a primary example of a neoliberal welfare regime, with its strong emphasis on equality and diversity, promoted its gender equality policy under the auspices of the Department of Trade and Industry. By contrast, with a strong emphasis on family values and the male-breadwinner model, the Japanese government carefully treated the goal of supporting female scientists from the perspective of the equal participation of both men and women rather than that of equality. Following this trend, rather contradictorily, women’s universities, with their tradition of fostering a ‘good wife, wise mother’ image, began to be highlighted as potential gender-free institutions that provided role models and mentoring female scientists. By drawing on the cases of England and Japan, this paper demonstrates how the idea of equality can be framed differently, according to wider institutional contexts, and how this idea impacts on gender policies.