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‘Be visible,’ top female lawmaker urges women

Bloomberg

Japanese women in leadership positions need to do more to become role models for those trying to rise through the ranks if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign against gender inequality is to succeed, according to the nation’s top female lawmaker.

“The most important thing is to be visible,” Seiko Noda, chairwoman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, said in an interview earlier this month. “Show it’s not unusual to see women in the job. Appear on television. By having people see the LDP General Council chairperson is a woman, it will help change thinking.”

Abe is aiming to make it easier for women to rise to the top, pledging a new law to provide incentives for companies and the central and local governments to promote women to positions of leadership, according to a new growth plan released Tuesday. The implementation of the plan is not without challenges, including a lack of child care facilities and tax rules that discourage women from full-time employment.

Abe’s goal is to increase the number of women in managerial positions to 30 percent by 2020 to boost an economy faced with a shrinking population. Abe’s growth plan pledges to discuss ways to boost female leaders during this fiscal year.

Increasing the number of working women is an economic necessity because Japan’s working-age ranks are set to shrink by almost half to around 44 million people by 2060, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

The nation’s gross domestic product could rise by as much as 13 percent by closing the gender employment gap, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s latest “Womenomics” report argues.

More than two decades after entering the Diet, the 53-year-old Noda says the perception that Japanese women should remain in the home is still pervasive.

When she became the only female member of the powerful Lower House 21 years ago, a fellow lawmaker told her to commit her life to the country and never marry, have kids or even grow her hair long. She went on to shatter all three taboos.

“Most people’s image of the General Council chairperson is an old man,” Noda, who has a 3-year-old child, said. “There’s a tendency to think a child-raising woman can’t do the job. We can. About the only thing a woman can’t do now is be a sumo wrestler.”

Abe plans to add day care centers for 400,000 more children by March 2018 and extend maternity leave to three years to make conditions easier for working mothers.

While Japan’s female workforce participation rate rose to a record 62.5 percent last year, it still trailed the 80.6 percent rate for men, according to the Goldman report.

Women hold just 3 percent of civil service supervisory positions, and the Lower House saw a 30 percent slide in the number of female lawmakers, to 38 of 480 seats, when Abe led his LDP into power in December 2012.