Beate was born in 1923 in Vienna (Austria) as the only child of Leo and Augustine Sirota. Her father was a well-known Russian pianist and got a reputation as "the reincarnation of Franz Liszt".
In 1928 Leo Sirota was invited to perform in Tokyo by one of Japan’s greatest composers, Kosaku Yamada ( http://www.naxos.com/person/Koscak_Yamada/20862.htm ).
The following year (1929) the Sirota family moved to Tokyo, where, in 1931, Leo Sirota was awarded a professorship at the Academy of Music in Tokyo (Currently Tokyo University of the Arts). This invitation also helped the family to get away from an increasingly widesperead anti-Semitism in Austria.
Hence, Beate, then barely more than five years old, spent her childhood years at the family’s home in Nogizaka, Tokyo, where she also attended a German school. However, by 1936 it had become too complicated for a Jewish girl to study at the German school. She had to change and went to an American school instead.
Meanwhile, Beate had noticed the stark difference between her family’s liberal air and the harsh traditions to which Japanese women were subjected.
At the age of 15, Beate left Japan and her parents to study at Milles College (California) in the US ( http://www.mills.edu/ ).
Soon after her arrival in 1941, war broke out between Japan and the US. As a result, Beate was no longer able to communicate with her parents or receive any kind of financial support from them. Hence forth she had to fend for herself.
After the war that ended in August 1945,Beate applied for and was offered a civilian job at GHQ; the only opportunity that would allow her to return to Japan. Arriving in Japan in December 1945, she immediately started searching for her parents who had survived the war. They were finally able to meet each other and the family was reunited once again.
In 1946, Beate was assigned to a committee at GHQ in charge of drafting a new constitution for Japan. In this context Beate was tasked with drafting human rights articles. She drew up a number of articles aimed at liberating Japanese women from discrimination and social suppression.
Although most of her articles were excluded from the final version, the spirit of her work had become the foundation for the following two articles:
Article 14 on basic human rights and
Article 24 on the essential equality of the sexes
In July 1947, Beate, taking her parents, went back to New York City where, Joseph Gordon, who had also served as a Japanese-English interpreter at GHQ in Tokyo, was waiting for her.
Joseph proposed to Beate and in January 1948 they were married. The family stayed in New York, where she continued to work as a translator.
In the Autumn of 1952, Beate served as an interpreter for Ms Fusae Ichikawa, who was a human rights activist and pioneer. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusae_Ichikawa ). Ms Ichikawa visited the US as a member of the first leadership exchange programme between the US and Japan. It is worth mentioning that in 1952 Beate’s contribution to the Japanese Constitution had not yet been disclosed.
Meanwhile, Beate continued to work for the Japan Society and Asia Society in NYC on introducing Japanese and Asian cultural activities to the US.
( See http://www.japansociety.org/ and http://asiasociety.org/new-york ).
Since 1946 drastic changes have occurred for Japanese women:
The Constitution was promulgated in November 1946.
The first general elections were held in April 1947; women voted for the first time in Japanese history.
The elections resulted in thirty-nine (39) women taking up their seats in the House of Representatives.
The Ministry of Labour was established and Ms Kikue Yamakawa was nominated as Director of the Women’s and Young Workers Bureau.
In 1947, patriarchy was officially abolished and the enactment of the Fundamental Education Act brought coeducation to the public school system.
In 1980, Ms Nobuko Takahashi, the then Ambassador to Denmark, signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was the key international convention of the United Nations Decade for Women.
Following the Convention’s ratification in 1985, Ms Ryoko Akamatsu, the then Director General of the Women’s Bureau, successfully took the lead in getting the Equal Employment Opportunity Law adopted.
Women’s human rights were gradually implemented legislation and national education evolved as well. For example, the Nationality Act was changed to assign equal status to women and men.
Coeducation in the Official Curriculum was changed to eliminate discrimination against women. Home economics, which had been compulsory only to girls in public school programmes in the past era, became compulsory equally to boys and girls.
The private sector followed suit. Although the first court case requesting equal pay for women and men was lost, the women appealed and won wide-spread public support in the process.
Eventually an amicable settlement was negotiated between the women and their employer. The settlement resulted in these women not only getting a salary increase but promotion as well. In this context the recommendations of the UN (The Committee for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAU) to the Japanese Government proved to be effective as well.
Social progress has also gave birth to courses on Feminism at universities across the country.
Legislation in support of gender equality was enacted in 1999 which has favourably affected women in many spheres of life. For example, it was a ground-breaking event when in 1991 Ms Sadako Ogata took up her post as High Commissioner for Refugees at the United Nations (UNHCR).
After a TV programme entitled, "The Nine Days of Incarceration That Gave Birth to the Japanese Constitution", was aired in 1993, Beate was invited regularly to address groups of people throughout Japan on her involvement in the democratic Japanese Constitution.
At the end of this documentary film, Beate summarises her heartfelt expectations of Japanese women:
"Japanese women are strong in their hearts and minds. I would like them to continue to work on creating a hopeful future. I am also confident that Japanese women will take full advantage in their daily lives of the articles I drafted in the Constitution and that they will collaborate with women all over the world, whose human rights are still suppressed."