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  • Writer's pictureWomEnpowered International

Opinion: Gender disparity across Japan's top institutions Vol. 3

In regards to the recent events concerning the gender disparities of Japan's top universities, three WE Int. members respond to this article published by the New York Times.

Our last respondent is Darina Obukhova a Computational Biology and Medical Sciences Graduate student at the University of Tokyo.


Recently we learnt the alarming statistics of only 1 of 5 Todai students being a woman. This immediately made me think about another statistics – where around 15% of researchers in Japan are female. I feel this number in action every time I come to the class offered by my Department of Computational Biology and Medical Sciences where majority of professors are male. I think of it every time I look around myself in a classroom and see mostly male faces. A strong skew towards one gender feels a little bit strange and unwelcoming. Sometimes it even feels like a meeting in some sort of male-only club and I ask myself if I opened a wrong door.

All this mixture of feelings and thoughts makes me want more strong female role models in the department. It also makes me think of reasons for such a small number of female students and, later on, female researchers. I believe those two statics are rooted in a range of similar reasons. These reasons include the stereotype that a woman is supposed to choose whether she wants to be a wife and mother or an ambitious professional. While I was studying in the University of Tsukuba for my bachelor’s degree and assisting in several research labs, I met Japanese women with PhDs who worked as lab technicians. They did so because after completing doctorate they were required to choose between propelling themselves through the academic career or family life. Neither of them thought they could have both at the same time.

The reasons also include the stereotype that women should try harder than men. The idea that women have physiologically different brain, probably less predisposed to difficult analytic tasks and more inclined to tears, is also among them. All of these beliefs are archaic and irrelevant, as it is possible to have both –a successful career and a fulfilling family life. A biomedical study from the UK Biobank found out that male brains tend to have slightly higher total brain volume and higher volumes in every subcortical region than female ones, yet when adjusted relative to overall brain size, both sexes’ brain are far more similar than they are different.

This should be considered in the admission policies of the universities and advertisements of those. Stop pinkinizing the brain!


Darina, raised in the Russian-controlled Caucasus at the military base, she is currently pursuing her master's degree in Computational Biology and Medical Sciences at the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo. Her research is about the genes encoding for E3 ligases, proteins involved in protein degradation. She is passionate about science, science communication, and gender balance in STEM-related fields. She also does part-time jobs mostly related to writing/editing and enjoys snowboarding, reading and meditating in her free time.

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