Feminist Icon Dies at 89

by Kari Belsheim

Beate Sirota Gordon, an integral advocate for women’s rights in Japan, passed away on December 30 at the age of 89. At 22, Gordon became the only woman on the American board that wrote the post-war Japanese constitution. She created the portion on women’s rights and, having witnessed the inferior treatment of Japanese women for ten years, was focused on protecting and improving their quality of life.

With no education pertaining to constitutional law, she spent a week engulfed in research and managed to introduce articles that outlawed discrimination due to “race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” Another article ensured women’s choice of spouse and living situation, and gave them property rights and the possibility of divorce.

Gordon was extraordinarily gifted with languages, and was fluent in six by the time she helped draft the constitution. She was born in Vienna in 1923, and then lived in Japan from the ages of five to eleven. After attending Mills College, she became a U.S. citizen in 1945 after working for the U.S. Office of War Information. Following the war, Gordon returned to Japan as an interpreter where she was recruited for the constitutional team.

She spent the more recent years of her life as a proponent of Asian art and cultural exchange in New York as well as a feminist icon in Japan.

Recently, the Japanese constitution has come under fire as Japanese conservatives attempt to strip it of the very elements Gordon put in. Her daughter said Gordon’s final public statements addressed the importance of maintaining the women’s rights and peace clauses of the constitution.


Images via bbc.co.uk and forward.com

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