National / Politics

Abe vows to help women in workforce

More day care centers, longer leave among latest pledges

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set forth on Friday new goals to spur economic growth by tapping the potential of women in the workforce, including dramatically increasing the number of day care centers and giving both men and women longer child care leave.

To shorten the waiting lists for day care centers, the government will encourage the building of more facilities through deregulation and subsidies, Abe said at the Japan National Press Club. The goal will be to accommodate 200,000 more children nationwide by 2015 and another 200,000 by 2017.

The government meanwhile will establish a subsidy for companies that allow men and women to leave their jobs until their children are 3 years old, he said. Currently, workers are entitled to take infant-related leave of 12 to 18 months.

To make sure such people return to the labor force once the leave is over, the government plans to set up another fund to help them recover their work skills, Abe said.

“Many women are still forced to make a choice between child-raising or quitting their job,” he said. “We will create a society where excellent workers will be able to play active roles. That will boost productivity of the whole society.

“I believe (utilization of women) should be the core of our strategy for (economic) growth,” he said.

Abe has been urged to hammer out strategies to spur real economic growth and not just create a financial bubble with fiscal spending.

Since taking power in December, he has surprised the world by advocating BOJ measures that have shoved Japanese stocks higher and the yen lower. However, many economists and market players fear the effects of “Abenomics” may not last over the long term.

“We should not be satisfied now. We need to make this bright sign (of economic recovery) stronger and sustainable,” Abe said Friday.

He has also been trying to win support from female voters ahead of the Upper House election in July. As part of this effort, he appointed Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda, both noted female lawmakers, to two of the Liberal Democratic Party’s top four executive posts.

The size of the new funds and the target number of workers to take longer child leave have yet to be decided, government officials said.

Meanwhile, Abe also said one of the administration’s key areas of focus will be advanced medicine, such as regenerative medicine that uses iPS cells.