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Japan must take lead in gender diplomacy

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Special To The Japan Times

In a 2017 Elsevier report, “Gender in the Global Research Landscape,” Japan ranks at the lowest end among 12 countries, with 15 percent female representation in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. As the American daughter of an MIT engineering student, I grew up believing that I didn’t have my father’s STEM mind, so I completed a Ph.D. in the social science field of politics and international relations. But overall, U.S. women comprise over 40 percent of researchers.

Japan has a global image problem in women’s empowerment and participation from the science lab through the corporate suite to the ivory tower. This chronic condition is not just an economic drain but a global embarrassment. It can be improved by Japan’s choice to take the lead in gender diplomacy. Gender diplomacy recognizes the power of gender analysis and gender equality promotion in international relations policy. And Japan’s women are leading this cause in their preference for embracing the globe in work, exchange and study.

The Elsevier report shows that in places like Brazil and Portugal, nearly 50 percent of all researchers are women. Along with the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France and Denmark have over 40 percent female researchers. But in Japan, men dominate: energy (9 percent women), engineering (11 percent women), and mathematics (11 percent women). Women’s inequality in Japan is not something that will change with “womenomics” or women’s conferences. There are cultural, political and economic conditions in Japanese society that continue to stymie Japan’s “growth” in equality between men and women. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace was fully enacted into law. This was 30 years after equal opportunity for men and women in the workplace was made official and 17 years after the Basic Act for Gender Equal Society.

Japan’s slower improvement in equality is one reason for the world’s second-largest democratic market economy to take the lead in making gender equity the centerpiece of its foreign policy and international relations. But a second reason is that Japan’s international relations is defined by a gender gap that is more appealing and favorable to women.

Thirty years ago, Japanese women had almost no presence in academic or corporate sector senior positions. Female diplomats were equally rare. The Elsevier report points to a Japanese “brain drain” of women researchers and female managers who use their skills globally at a much higher rate than their rates of inclusion at home. These women leaders serve as Japan’s gender diplomats. These senior women are being followed by a disproportionate number of younger women who venture outside Japan to study abroad or join international organizations like the United Nations. Nearly 8 out of 10 (76 percent) of Japanese high school students who study abroad are female. Two-thirds of university students who participate in study abroad are female.

This female gender diplomacy corps extends its influence into global career choices where these women can excel at a higher clip than they can in Japan. The U.N. reports that 60 percent of its Japanese women employees work in high-level positions and 43 percent hold leading positions. These women are working in an atmosphere where women shine in not just numbers but communications ability. U.N. data points to a female success rate in peace-building and international negotiations. When women representatives are present on both sides of a confrontation, peace negotiations are more likely to hold and for longer.

Back home in Japan, although their participation numbers remain comparatively low to other countries, women researchers have a higher scholarly output than men. Male researchers work longer hours than women, who must often include child care and home-life management. Women’s higher productivity may come from a more efficient approach to accomplishing daily tasks.

Both Japanese female scholarly efficiency and more Japanese women than men participating in a global setting challenge Japan’s bleak gender equity indices. Women are slightly less likely than men to collaborate internationally on research papers, but in Japan women researchers work with international scholars almost equal to men. They are devoted to interdisciplinary research more than their male counterparts. Perhaps this is due to Japanese women’s global wanderlust reflected in study and work abroad numbers. In Japan’s global reach, diversity and inclusion efforts are being led by women.

This gendered diplomacy in work and study abroad is an opportunity for Japan to reflect how men and women are impacted differently by globalization. Women in Japan will continue to go global where work and study climates are freeing. They will rise in greater numbers to higher heights. They will continue to reflect positively on Japan’s international profile as citizen diplomats.

Meanwhile, Japan must promote more male participation in work and study abroad. Japanese men must conduct more scholarship across disciplines and national boundaries. And Japan must create work and life conditions for its talented female researchers to want to remain in their native homeland. Otherwise, they will continue to cross the ocean for a warmer reception.

Nancy Snow is Pax Mundi Professor of Public Diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. Reach her at www.nancysnow.com .