WASHINGTON – Japan’s strategy for empowering women, now underway as a pillar of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth blueprint, faces a host of challenges such as a male-centered political culture and work practices limiting women’s career advancement, according to a recent U.S. report.
The Congressional Research Service report on Abe’s “womenomics” strategy points to the recent sexist heckling against a Tokyo assemblywoman as highlighting one such challenge, saying it reveals a “deeply ingrained political culture” that many critics say “disrespects female leaders and sees their role as largely in the home.”
The Aug. 1 report, titled “‘Womenonics’ in Japan: In Brief,” also noted that the customs of working long hours and drinking with colleagues after work as well as inflexible work hours have made it difficult to balance work and child-rearing.
Data show less than 2 percent of male workers opt to use parental leave, reinforcing the notion that “it is the woman’s role to care for a new baby,” the report says.
In terms of labor force participation and compensation, the report said the gap between Japanese men and women is one of the largest among highincome countries.
Given that once in the workforce, Japanese women have the potential for long, productive careers because of their long life expectancy, the report said narrowing the gender gap is “a potential source of economic growth for Japan as well as a way to help offset the long-term demographic problems facing the country.”
The Abe government has set a goal of raising the proportion of women in leading corporate positions to 30 percent by 2020 as part of Abe’s growth strategy, with plans to introduce legislation in parliament in the fall aimed at promoting women’s career advancement.
In June, sexist heckling was directed at an assemblywoman on the floor of the metropolitan assembly, such as, “You should get married first,” while she was asking questions about maternity support measures during a plenary session. An assemblyman from Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party later admitted to making the remarks and apologized to the woman, an opposition party member.