Japanese women took to the streets of Tokyo to mark International Women’s Day on Wednesday with calls to abandon a rule which forces couples to choose one surname upon getting married.

Protesters rallied to call on Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s governing party to change the rule, arguing in the majority of cases it is women having to sacrifice their surname due to societal pressure in a country ranking among the world’s worst for gender equality.

MPs attending the protest were handed a statement by multiple rights groups which called for the 125-year-old civil code to be changed.

According to experts, Japan is the only country in the world which imposes the obligation to choose only one spouse’s surname.

“We strongly urge the parliament to face the issue and promptly achieve a revision to the civil code,” the activists said in the statement.

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Japan ranked 116 out of 146 countries on gender parity in the World Economic Forum’s global report last year, and efforts to promote women in management and government have stalled. There are only two women cabinet ministers among the 20 members of Mr Kishida’s cabinet.

“The situation for women, who are trying to balance household and workplace responsibilities, is quite difficult in our country and has been noted as an issue,” chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Wednesday.

While the 1898 code doesn’t define who is to give up their surname, in 95 per cent of cases it is women due to paternalistic family values still lingering in the country.

Public support for a dual-surname option has grown, with surveys showing a majority now supports the option for married couples to keep separate surnames.

Some couples have also brought lawsuits saying the current law violates the constitutional guarantee of gender equality since women almost always give up their surnames.

It comes as a survey published in the Sankei Shimbun daily found that the majority (65 per cent) of women in Japan put a low priority on time for themselves in order to fulfil family responsibilities, compared to 42 per cent of men.

Women did 80 per cent of the cooking, compared to eight per cent of men, and other household chores had a similar weighting. The only job men did more than women was taking out the rubbish, at 49 per cent to 43 per cent.

Additional reporting by agencies

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