Ijime: Barriers to Girls’ Access to Education in My Community
Girls in my community, a small town called Awa-shi, Tokushima in Japan, face challenges that are not obvious to many people from outside.
It is namely called iiime. It is not only girls’ affairs, but many boys also suffer. Ijime debilitates these children to voice their opinions for fear that someone will back fire at them. Ijime made these children to cry alone. Ijime made them not to go to school. Some children even drop out of the schools. Some children confined themselves inside their own rooms without talking things out with anyone, even with their own parents. Some children committed suicide because of Ijime. Ijime in Japan is a serious social problem. It happens everywhere in Japan. Ijime is unheard of in most developing countries. Not in advanced countries either. It seems like ijime phenomenon is only reserved in the context of Japanese social settings, even though opportunities to study is fully available. Many researchers and social workers, psychologists are puzzled, debated, trying to resolve it, but no practical solutions were raised in the past.
Ijime is a word to describe the situations where one child is targeted and bullied by a group of individuals. They are ignored, battered, abused, belittled, undervalued, despised, laughed at, and disliked not particularly for any logical reasons. The child who is targeted commits no crime or threatens no one, but may be different in appearance, different in behavior, backgrounds, abilities, ethnic groups, or life styles. The individual stands out. It is a type of peer pressure that goes against those who act and think differently from the rest. No one knows for sure who really started ijime. Some researchers commented that ijime is a form of scape-goatism that they take the individual in question to be held responsible for all the troubles and difficulties in life. It may be easier to see it when you compare western culture and Japanese culture. In western culture, individualistic opinions are encouraged and promoted, while in Japan, on the ground of collectivism, people habitually eliminate the individualistic opinions to conform to the vast majority in order to function the society in cooperative order.
Though, as a child, one would not know how to conform to the vast majority. Therefore, children, knowingly or unknowingly, perform ijime, to shape individuals to harmonize with others. Having said that, I, as a child, was no exception to the impact of ijime.
I refused to go to school when ijime happened to me. The impact of barrier, ijime, to education on me was the serious loss of interest in studying. I stopped going to school for three months. I hated studying simply because there were no friends in the class. No one dared to talk to or cheer me other than discouraged, ignored, talked behind my back or despised. As a small girl, I longed to go anywhere in the world than to the school. Ijime phenomena can create further influence, in the extreme sense, on individuals to mistrust others, deny the reality, and dislike people in general. By gradual process children learn to fit into the rest of the group. They start fearing to do anything different from the approvals of the group. Many children in their junior and senior high schools, try hard to level their scores of the exams down to the rest of the class so that they may not be appeared overly intelligent or foolish. They feel safe when they are in the middle ground not branching out of the group. Some children may be extremely frightened if they are rewarded or selected in the class for doing particularly well. It is a type of phobia that many Japanese cannot overcome. Even after entering their adulthood, still many carry such fear with them. Many Japanese feel extremely insecure when they are not with group or asked to voice their opinions
It took me a long time to overcome the fear of voicing opinions. Long ago, I remember being terrified standing in front of the class presenting my speech in my 20s. Teaching Japanese language in collages was a series of nervous breakdown when I was in California, U.S. Then taking drama courses helped me to loosen up a little. When I managed a hospital, as NGO director, in India helped me build confidence in me voicing my opinions to government, businesses, and universities. Through trials and errors, I overcame. Today, I established Support Women and Children in Nigeria (SWACIN), a NGO in Japan. As my age and experience advanced, I spoke and write with joy and grace today. Fears and frights for disapproval from groups, that used to disturb me so much, had gradually disowned me. Such freedom is indeed—no comparison to the materialistic reward, but—the greatest achievement ever made in life.