National

Abe recommits to 'womenomics'

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

At an international conference focusing on women, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday renewed his pledge to promote the status of women in society.

Speaking to an audience of about 1,000 people attending the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo, Abe vowed to address the challenges that hamper their active participation.

“‘To create a society where women can shine’ has been consistently one of the high-priority issues since my administration was launched in December two years ago,” he said.

“I’d like to support women who made a choice on their ways to live,” such as those who decided to stay at home until they finished child-rearing or to work as full-time employees, he added.

Citing the example that 60 percent of women quit their jobs after the birth of their first child, the prime minister again said he would make efforts to eliminate nursery school waiting lists.

“Over the three years from the next fiscal year, we will make sure to set a course toward obtaining a zero waiting list for nursery schools by securing 200,000 entrance spots,” he said.

Abe noted he has encouraged the private sector to actively promote women in their businesses, and said he will implement measures to accelerate the moves, including by calling on firms to report their female executives on financial statements and providing subsidies to companies that let women play active roles.

Abe said his administration will compile a set of measures next month to achieve a target of increasing the ratio of women in leading positions to 30 percent by 2020.

He also reported the number of female Cabinet members, which stands at five following a reshuffle last week, means Japan is now 11th among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, up from 29th.

Meanwhile, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said at the forum that the “power of women” is necessary to keep economic growth going forward.

“We will face grave challenges to growth going forward . . . as populations around the world age, as economic disparities increase, and as the environment expects respect,” she said in her keynote speech.

“So, given these challenges, we will need all the economic growth, dynamism and the ingenuity that we can get from all corners. Thankfully, one such dynamism is just in front of us, it’s the power of women,” she said.

Praising Abe’s initiative to promote women’s presence in society, Lagarde said empowering them can help “rescue the Japanese economy.”

She also noted that many corporate sectors have yet to promote women.

“Business must become more welcoming to women. One of your services is to make the working environment more flexible. One option is to actually make sure that the employment environment is attractive to women,” Lagarde said.

She added that businesses should take more risks in promoting women to a higher positions, arguing such a move will “create more mentors and role models for women to access the work, not just the workplace, the work career ladder.”

The conference, jointly organized by the central government, influential business lobby Keidanren, the Nikkei group and the Japan Institute of International Affairs, is set to run through Sunday. It will feature roundtable discussions and cultural events.

Following discussions the conference, dubbed “WAW! Tokyo 2014,” will compile a set of proposals on the promotion of women in society.