Women’s pay imbalances

A nother International Women’s Day was celebrated March 8, though “celebrate” is perhaps not the right word. Most women around the world were too busy making ends meet to find time to celebrate.

This year’s reports from the United Nations Human Rights Center and various labor rights organizations were not as disastrous as in the past, but showed little improvement in women’s living and working conditions.

Several reports focused on the work-life balance that most women have yet to achieve. A report by the International Trade Union Confederation found that women with children earn an average 68 percent of what men do, and even women without children earn only 74 percent. Those worldwide figures differ from country to country, of course, but nowhere do women come close to functional equality with men.

One of the curious conclusions from the studies of women’s position in different countries is that despite laws regulating fair pay and gender equality, social progress is still so slow. Japan is one of the clearest examples of slow-motion change.

Japan’s commitment to gender equality looks pretty good on the books, but the reality of social change is still elusive. Japan is reasonably good about providing female medical care, controlling harmful workplaces or offering maternity leave, but social imbalances persist.

Current laws need greater enforcement, but a shift in attitudes and updates of daily practices are needed, too. In workplaces, unequal training opportunities, lack of freedom to complain and sexual harassment need immediate correction.

In many cases, women are overqualified for their positions or tracked differently for promotions. Outside the workplace, the burden of childcare and household chores falls unfairly on women, often leaving them little option but to work part-time or simply overwork.

The issue is more than just improving work satisfaction and work-life balance. Finding ways to help women is an important goal with long-range implications for Japanese society. That Japan’s postwar economic successes were accomplished mainly by men is only part of the picture, but unquestionably, Japan’s future economy will depend heavily on the participation of women.

Japan has all the basics in place and on paper, but the time has come to enact them into a functioning reality for women.