Gender has been an important principle of stratification throughout Japanese history, but the cultural elaboration of gender differences has varied over time and among different social classes. In the twelfth century (Heian period), for example, women in Japan could inherit property in their own names and manage it by themselves: "Women could own property, be educated, and were allowed, if discrete, to take lovers".. Later, under feudal governments (the Shogunate), the status of women shifted. Peasant women continued to have de facto freedom of movement and decisionmaking power, but upper-class women's lives were subject to the patrilineal and patriarchal ideology supported by the government as part of its efforts at social control. With early industrialization, young women participated in factory work under exploitive and unhealthy working conditions without gaining personal autonomy. In the Meiji period, industrialization and urbanization lessened the authority of fathers and husbands, but at the same time the Meiji Civil Code of 1898 denied women legal rights and subjugated them to the will of household heads. Peasant women were less affected by the institutionalization of this trend, but it gradually spread even to remote areas. In the 1930s and 1940s, the government encouraged the formation of women's associations, applauded high fertility, and regarded motherhood as a patriotic duty to the Japanese Empire.
After World War II, the legal position of women was redefined by the occupation authorities, who included an equal rights clause in the 1947 Constitution and the revised Civil Code of 1948. Individual rights were given precedence over obligation to family. Women as well as men were guaranteed the right to choose spouses and occupations, to inherit and own property in their own names, and to retain custody of their children. Women were given the right to vote in 1946. Other postwar reforms opened education institutions to women and required that women receive equal pay for equal work. In 1986 the Equal Employment Opportunity Law took effect. Legally, few barriers to women's equal participation in the life of society remain, although see Japanese succession controversy.
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