As the female-friendly image of his Liberal Democratic Party deteriorates, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday renewed his promise to create a better environment for women to exert their talents, saying their power is a vital engine of his economic policies.

“A society where women can shine should not only be used as an excuse (for companies and the government) to demonstrate that they are tapping female talents,” Abe told some 850 women attending the 19th International Conference for Women in Business, whose sponsors included The Japan Times. “The important thing is to change the rules of the game by incorporating perspectives of women in corporate management and work style.”

Abe’s appeal follows an embarrassing episode in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly last month when a male LDP lawmaker heckled a female colleague with sexist taunts. The incident, which made international headlines, threw into question the legitimacy of Abe’s commitment to using women to combat the nation’s dwindling workforce, and reinforced Japan’s reputation as a sexist society resistant to the modern trend toward diversity.

A female lawmaker in the Lower House was similarly heckled with misogynistic comments earlier this year.

The international community has long faulted Japan for neglecting the issue of female advancement — a matter of increasing urgency as its labor force declines and its population rapidly ages and shrinks.

According to 2013 survey figures, an estimated 3.15 million Japanese women who want to work remain unemployed. More than 60 percent of the women surveyed said that they quit work after giving birth because of the lack of support for working mothers.

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