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Abe vows to get more women into workforce after dismal global ranking

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday told an audience of female business executives, both Japanese and foreign, that he is committed to increasing the number of women in the workforce to help boost Japan’s ailing economy.

During the one-day 2014 Women in Business Summit, which drew hundreds of attendees, Abe pledged to empower women with the aim of creating a society where “all women can shine” — a favored phrase of Abe’s that he has repeated in his recent speeches.

Last year, Japan ranked 105th among 136 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report issued by the World Economic Forum.

” ‘Abenomics’ won’t succeed without ‘womenomics,’ ” Abe said, using a term coined over a decade ago by Kathy Matsui, managing director and chief Japan equity strategist at Goldman Sachs Japan Co.

In keeping with the government’s plan to boost the number of women in leading positions 30 percent by 2020 — the year Tokyo hosts the Olympics — Abe said he would show the world a stronger, renewed Japan.

“I have placed the strategy for women at the center of the strategy for growth,” he said. “Half of all consumers are women and by making use of women’s ideas there will be new innovations.”

Matsui, who attended the conference, said she supported the policy. At a time when the nation’s population is graying and shrinking in size, bringing more women into the workforce is crucial for its economy, she said.

Goldman Sachs’s latest “Womenomics” report, released this month, estimated that if the 2013 employment rate of women in Japan equaled that of men, it would boost the country’s GDP by as much as 12.5 percent. In 2013, 62.5 percent of women were employed, compared with 80.6 percent of men.

Matsui said the percentage of female executives in the private sector in Japan is around 11 percent. The ratio of female lawmakers is 8.1 percent, a rate lower than that of Libya and Iran, she said, adding that there is a shortage of female role models in leadership positions in Japan.

“Womenomics is not only a women’s issue,” Matsui said at the gathering. “The government, companies, and society need to cooperate to deal with the problem that Japan is facing.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, who delivered the opening remarks at the event, said it is important to support those women who are struggling to make ends meet.

“We also need to be honest about the fact that there are great differences in opportunities for educated women and women who haven’t received a college degree, as well as between married women and single mothers,” she said.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    This is Japan. It will never happen.

    • itoshima2012

      why do you say that? It’s ratio is already in the top 25% globally so participation is high! As for the gap in salaries women face the same problem all over the world. It’s gonna be a long struggle, negative views like your are of no help!

      • itoshima2012

        data taken from the last OECD report on that issue. Scandinavia top with approx 73%, after that most OECD countries hover between 62 and 66%…. so Japan is neither bad nor good…

      • Mike Wyckoff

        Are you satisfied that its better than Greece, Italy and Mexico???

      • Mike Wyckoff

        Japan may be in the top 25, but the economy is in the top 5. You shouldn’t be proud that the employment rate of women is only .2% above Slovenia. You should be comparing Japan to the G7 average of 61.9, or excluding the Italian anomaly, 64.3%

      • itoshima2012

        The ratio is irrelevant, I stated cleat that what concerns me is the pay gap! So no, I’m not proud if anything! I just don’t like this BS about ratios. Societies and cultures are very different, in some cultures women prefer not to work. What concerns me is that those women who choose to work should get the same pay as men and this is clearly in all developed countries not the case. I would like the discussion to focus on pay and not how many women should work because that’s their business and goverent should stay out of this but it should make sure that the pay is equal. But it is easier to talk ratios than to take the bull by its horns!!

      • Mike Wyckoff

        You brought up ratios in your first sentence so, it’s relevant enough.

      • itoshima2012

        if you want to talk ratios, according to the OECD report in 2012 Japan ranked 17th with 60.7%, just behind the USA (16th) with 62.2. – nothing much changes up to the top 10 nations and even there only the top 5 reach a ratio of 70% and a little above so don’t give me that crxxp how bad Japan is. It’s not!

      • Jamie Bakeridge

        I say it because it is true. There are many things Japan is excellent at. And others it is awful at. However, uniquely amongst developed nations, the Japanese media are happy to let politicians speak pie-in-the-sky guff without holding them to account on the effects of their policies or whether such policies enjoy bureaucratic support and are funded.

  • itoshima2012

    Agree with this article except for the usual Goldman Sachs crap, you’ll never have 80% of women in employment, hello,,,, women get pregnant and have children, anyone at GS smart enough to understand that …. According to the 2013 ILO report the female employment to population ratio in East Asia was 64% so Japan is actually right there….. It’s not so important how many women work, it’s more important how much they earn! That’s the problem. Goldman would be very happy to have 100% of the women in employment for the minimum wage to cater for its clients….

  • Stephen Kent

    It’s not so much a governmental problem as a societal problem. The sooner women are accepted as women instead of ornaments/dolls the better.