Photo/Illutration Cross-party lawmakers hold a study group session in Tokyo in February about their proposal to enact a new law to enhance support for women. (Maki Okubo)

The Diet passed a bill on May 19 to strengthen government support for women suffering from domestic violence, sexual abuse and poverty, modernizing the old support system that dates from the 1950s.

The new law, which takes effect in April 2024, will overhaul the current legal framework for supporting women, which is based on the 1956 Prostitution Prevention Law.

The old law had created support services designed to provide women at risk of falling into prostitution with guidance or rehabilitation.

Women’s rights advocates have long called for legislative changes, saying that the existing system is no longer suited for the purpose.

The new law will require prefectures to establish modern women’s centers that offer support and consultation services.

Women can get consultations at the centers to discuss their problems, which will also provide temporary refuge to women in crisis.

Women’s consultation centers were established in each prefecture under the 1956 law, but those existing centers will now all be revamped so they can fulfill their new mandates.

One key difference under the new regime is that prefectures will now be expected to proactively support women in cooperation with private organizations--not just wait to receive requests for assistance.

This could entail finding women who cannot seek help on their own and ensure they are provided with consultations and assistance.

The new law says prefectures can arrange for private organizations to assist through providing women in need of help with accommodations or accompanying them to get their documentation processed.

The new law was enacted after a plenary session of the Lower House unanimously passed the corresponding bill that same day.

The stated aim of the bill, which was originally tabled in the Diet by a cross-party group of lawmakers, is to respect women’s human rights and promote their welfare.