Women from Fukushima at a sit-in in Tokyo

Yesterday close to two hundred women from Fukushima began a three-day sit-in outside the Tokyo office of Japan’s Ministry of Economy calling for the evacuation of children from areas with high radiation levels and the permanent shut down of nuclear reactors in Japan currently switched off. Their peaceful protest is a powerful - almost radical – act in a country where standing up for something can often mean ostracism from one’s community. These are not women who regularly participate in civil protest. These are mothers who fear for their children’s safety and future. These are grandmothers separated from their families. The fact that they have put their own lives and families on hold for these three days reflects the harrowing situation these women and their families have found themselves in since the nuclear disaster.

The responsibilities of these women have only grown since the nuclear meltdown completely disrupted their lives. One of the women protesting, Ms. Saeko Uno, fled Fukushima with her 4-year daughter just hours after the earthquake struck Japan on March 11. She is now living in another city, but her husband can’t give up his job in Fukushima and has to commute back and forth between the two cities. She is frustrated by the separation that has been forced on her family by the disaster. Ms. Uno came to the protest to tell the world that Fukushima doesn’t need nuclear power. In Fukushima, many victims of nuclear radiation are not recognised by the government as having an official right to evacuate the area. This injustice is another issue that has brought Ms. Uno and dozens of other women to Tokyo to protest.

The women come from all backgrounds. They are young and old (including an 86-year-old woman), teachers and farmers. During the sit-in they will knit a long woolen chain together, a symbol for them of connecting themselves in one circle. They are calling on women from all over Japan and the rest of the world to join them, beginning on October 30th. Some of the women have been protesting against the Fukushima nuclear plant for years – long before the earthquake and tsunami. Others have joined the cause after the radiation began to affect their families, their children. Most of all, Ms. Uno explains, they want to connect with each other and - amongst the despair that has brought them together – find hope.