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.