Efforts to raise Japan’s dismal female participation in the workforce should generate significant economic benefits, the head of the U.N. Development Program said.
“If women’s participation here came up to something more like the average, that would be very beneficial for growth, development and prosperity in Japan, because you bring more people functioning into the economy,” Helen Clark, the first woman to head the UNDP, said in an interview Wednesday.
The participation rate for Japan’s women was the second-lowest in the Group of Eight nations at 48.1 percent in 2012, according to the latest Human Development Report, issued Thursday by the UNDP.
At 61.6 percent, Canada had the highest rate in the G-8. The rate in other industrialized countries ranged between 50 and 60 percent, except for Italy, which had 39.4 percent, the report said.
Among the Asian economies, Singapore logged 59.0 percent and South Korea 49.9 percent.
Clark, who was New Zealand’s first elected female prime minister and is now seen as a leading candidate to run the United Nations, offered Abe some tips on female empowerment when he asked for her advice at a dinner during the Davos confab for the rich and powerful in Switzerland earlier this year, she said.
“I think the prime minister is very serious about (the promotion of women’s leadership),” Clark said.
She said that his plan to hold a female-focused version of the Davos economic forum in Tokyo in September is an important step.
Abe has set a lofty target of having working women hold 30 percent of all senior management positions by 2020 as part of his “Abenomics” pro-growth economic policies to revive the economy after a slump lasting nearly two decades.
The rate was only 1.1 percent in 2013, according to a research firm.
“What I said was there are a number of things that can be done,” Clark said.
She suggested that Abe’s government expand the preschool system, improve the paid parental leave program, allow parents to take longer annual holidays to cover children’s long school holidays, and introduce more flexible working conditions, she said.
“These are clearly on the Japanese government’s agenda. Some are in place to some degree or another. But they will need to keep being progressed,” Clark said.
She expects discussions to start sooner or later on picking a woman to lead the United Nations, although she said it is too early to talk about whether she would be interested in the top post to succeed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when his term expires at the end of 2016.
“There will come a time when that debate will start. And for sure, there will be many people who will say, ‘Isn’t it time for a woman?’ ” she said.
At the upcoming Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction scheduled for March in Sendai, one of the cities damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan can show how it is “building back better to cope with disaster in the future,” Clark said.