Japan’s Supreme Court Just Banned Married Women From Keeping Their Maiden Names

December 17, 2015  |  

The fight for gender equality just took a hard blow in Japan where the supreme court ruled married couples must continue to use only one surname. The decision upholds a law dating back to 1898 and rejects the claim of discrimination alleged by five plaintiffs who brought forth a lawsuit seeking the right to keep their maiden names.

While the law doesn’t explicit state women have to take their husband’s name, an overwhelming majority of married women (an estimated 95% according to the New York Times) in the country do.

“When I heard the ruling I started crying, and even now it hurts,” said Kyoko Tsukamoto, one of the five plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit. The 80-year-old retired teacher said she “lost her identity” as a result of the ruling, referring to the fact that she and her husband of 55 years registered their marriage only because they wanted to avoid the stigma of their children being born out of wedlock. In protest of the law she and her husband divorced and remarried in between their children’s births.

“My name is Kyoko Tsukamoto, but I can’t live or die as Kyoko Tsukamoto,” she stated.

Ten of the Japanese Supreme Court’s justices voted in favor of the maiden name ban which has been challenged several times in the decades since its implementation in lesser courts. In a separate ruling released Wednesday, the court declared a law requiring divorced women to wait six months before remarrying unconstitutional, recommending shortening the ban to 100 days. As for the maiden name ruling, Machiko Osawa, Director of the Research Institute for Women and Careers at Japan Women’s University, said the decision not only has a personal impact but a professional one as well, noting that a favorable ruling would have helped “working women, and recognition of their position in society.”

“You should have the right to choose the name you want,” she said telling CNN, “it is really cumbersome that you already have established your own position in a corporation — then suddenly because you get married, you have to change your name.”

So far there’s no word on whether the five women will appeal this decision.

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