Negotiating gender equality in daily work: an ethnography of a public women’s organisation in Okinawa, Japan
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This doctoral research is a contribution to the understanding of social activism and its socio-cultural formation in postcolonial Okinawa. It is based on eighteen months of fieldwork including participant observation and interviews at a public women’s organisation, Women’s Organisation Okinawa (WOO). This project centres on the lived practices of staff who attempted to produce and encourage gender equality in the public sector under neoliberal governance. I demonstrate through ethnographic analysis how the practice of law and social movements is distinct from the ideals of such movements as well as the particular individuals involved in them. WOO was established in the public sector by local government in alliance with various grassroots groups in Okinawa in the late 1990s. WOO embraced the dreams, hopes and anticipations of various actors - users and workers - who had been involved in the establishment, but in reality, it also contained various contradictions. First, WOO was a new workplace for those who wanted to work in activism and be paid for their work, but also reproduced precarious, low-waged, gendered labour. Second, WOO was a site which put law into practice, but it revealed that law internalised the inconsistency between what people had originally expected of the law and what law enacted as a result of institutionalisation. Third, WOO unexpectedly became a focal point of contact between neoliberal and feminist governance through public services and the requirements of performing accountability for citizens and for feminist activism. Thus frontline practitioners attempted to bridge the gap between ideal, reality, law and practice and to negotiate with neoliberal and feminist governance in the labour process. This thesis demonstrates how the inconsistencies between ideal and reality arose in the daily working practices of staff positioned between citizens, laws and social movements. More precisely, it explores how staff attempted to negotiate, accommodate and struggle with the gap between ideal and reality through their lived experience, rather than fiercely resisting or merely being subject to a form of governance or reality. In doing so, the thesis reveals how unstable and problematic the notion of ‘gender equality’ was as it was deployed at WOO.