Six years ago, over 15,000 people perished and tens of thousands of people’s lives changed forever. Northeastern Japan was hit by a massive earthquake, followed by an enormous tsunami that wiped out coastal towns one after another. Then, in the days that followed came the horrifying news: the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors went into meltdown.

A satellite image shows damage at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant In Fukushima Prefecture.A satellite image shows damage at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant

The disaster is still with us.

Nuclear survivors continue to live with fear for their families’ health and with uncertainty about their future. Women are bearing the greatest brunt. They continue to grapple with unanswered questions, unable to relieve a deeply held sense of anger and injustice.

Over the past six years, starting just two weeks after the beginning of this nuclear disaster, Greenpeace conducted radiation surveys in the contaminated region. The latest survey gathered data in and around selected houses in Iitate village, located 30-50 km from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant [1]. In some homes, residents would receive a radiation dose equivalent to getting a chest x-ray every week. And that’s assuming they stay in the limited decontaminated areas, as 76% of the total area of Iitate has not been touched and remains highly contaminated.

Greenpeace documentation of radioactive decontamination work in Iitate district, Japan.Greenpeace documentation of radioactive decontamination work in Iitate district, Japan.

Despite this, the government, headed by Shinzo Abe, intends to lift evacuation orders from the village and other areas in March and April 2017; and one year later terminate compensation for families from those areas. It will also cancel housing support for those who evacuated outside designated zones. For those dependent on this support, it could mean being forced to return.

Women and children are the hardest hit by the nuclear disaster. They are physically more vulnerable to impacts of the disaster and radiation exposure. Evacuation broke up communities and families, depriving women and children of social networks and sources of support and protection. Together with a yawning wage gap (Japan has the third highest gender income disparity in the most recent OECD ranking), female evacuees – especially single mothers with dependent children – face far higher poverty risk than men.

Despite, or because of the adversity, women are the greatest hope for transformative change. Though women are politically and economically marginalised, they have been at the forefront of demanding change from the government and the nuclear industry.

Mothers from Fukushima and elsewhere are standing up against the paternalistic government policies and decisions, to protect their children and to secure a nuclear-free future for the next generations. They are leading anti-nuclear movements by organising sit-ins in front of the government offices, spearheading legal challenges and testifying in court, and joining together to fight for  their rights.

A mother of three, Akiyo Suzuki and her family evacuated to Hokkaido for a month following the 11 March triple disaster. The family lives in Watari, a district in Fukushima City. When the nuclear disaster occurred she found it hard to find clear information about the dangers from the accident, and discovered great differences on the internet compared with newspapers and television.A mother of three, Akiyo Suzuki and her family evacuated to Hokkaido for a month following the 11 March disaster. The family lives in Watari, a district in Fukushima City. When the nuclear disaster occurred she found it hard to find clear information about the dangers from the accident, and discovered great differences on the internet compared with newspapers and television.

Let’s stand up with women at the forefront of anti-nuclear struggle. Let’s fight for their rights and future together.

Yuko Yoneda is the Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan

[1] Amounting to a lifetime exposure of between 39 mSv and 183 mSv over 70 years starting from March 2017. This number excludes the very high doses the people of Iitate received in the immediate aftermath of the disaster as a result of an extremely delayed evacuation. Though Greenpeace had called for evacuation of Iitate on 27 March 2011 due to the very high levels our team found there, the evacuation did not begin until 22 April 2011 and extended into June.