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Japanese Medical School Admits To Rigging Entrance Exams To Hurt Women Candidates


All right, let's turn to another story about women trying to find their place in a male-dominated profession. A Japanese medical school has admitted to systematically rigging its entrance exam to hurt women candidates. An internal investigation into Tokyo Medical University found that the school had been lowering women's test scores for at least a decade. It should be noted that some men were given bonus points in order to boost their scores. The school's officials have since publicly apologized, and the scandal has caused outrage throughout the country, bringing to light Japan's deep problem with gender discrimination.

Elaine Lies from Reuters has been covering this story in Tokyo, and she joins us now. Welcome.


CHANG: So what originally was the university's rationale for docking scores of women and boosting scores of men?

LIES: The idea was that women would quit early on in their careers as doctors to have children and to raise their families. And they were worried that this would lead to a shortage of doctors at the university hospital. That was the assumption that was made, and they followed it since 2006...


LIES: ...Apparently. And it was prompted by a jump in women doing well and passing the exams the year before. So they decided they would keep the number of women...


LIES: ...At around 30 percent apparently.

CHANG: Thirty percent - and when news of this investigation broke, did people even seem surprised by it in Japan? I mean, what has been the reaction in the country?

LIES: Kind of the overarching reaction was fairly calm. But women were furious, and there was a hashtag campaign on social media saying it is OK to be angry at sexism. And women wrote in, sharing their own stories not just in the medical field but throughout their lives, throughout their job hunts and throughout their experience. And that was really something. And that was...

CHANG: What kind of stories?

LIES: Oh, they were - this one woman said that she had fought her parents to go into academia. They said that academia is not a place for women. She got into the best university in Japan. Then when she was job hunting, people said her, if you were a man, we would hire you immediately.


LIES: And her comment was, wow, I thought my only enemies were my parents, but it was all of society.

CHANG: Now, Japan has one of the biggest economies in the world, but do you have a sense of how it ranks in terms of women being represented in elite professions or in senior positions?

LIES: It is very, very, very low. And Prime Minister Abe - when he came to power, he said that improving the gender balance was one of his big goals.

CHANG: Right.

LIES: He said he wanted to make Japan a society where women can shine.

CHANG: And he wanted women to be in 30 percent of the country's leadership positions by 2020.

LIES: Right, right, well that does not seem to be advancing appreciably at this point.

CHANG: What has his government said about this particular case of gender discrimination by the med school?

LIES: Well, Abe himself has not commented on this directly as far as I know, but there were reports today that the Education Ministry is going to look into the entrance exams for all of Japan's medical schools.


LIES: So we'll see where that goes.

CHANG: To see if scores have been doctored.

LIES: I assume.

CHANG: Elaine Lies of Reuters joined us from Tokyo. Thank you very much.

LIES: And thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.