Japan could lead the global drive for greater gender equality but the country needs to step up its reforms, according to female world leaders who gathered at a symposium on women’s empowerment in Tokyo Wednesday.
“It would not be the first time in history when Japan would come from behind to overcome everybody,” Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank’s first ever chief executive officer, said in her keynote speech at the fourth World Assembly for Women in Tokyo.
She was referring to Japan’s economic growth in recent decades and its path to becoming the world’s third-largest economy.
“Bringing women in Japan to full participation would mean a 9 percent bigger GDP, in other words, a richer Japan,” Georgieva said.
She said that empowering women would be crucial to reduce the global financial gender gap estimated at between $5 trillion and $7 trillion.
“Gender equality is paramount to our success,” she said, stressing the need for equal rights, access to education, empowerment to make decisions for the future and additional support including financial aid.
Indian Lakshmi Puri of the United Nations was hoping the symposium would “lead to a commitment of political will to really take the equality agenda forward.” Puri serves as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women.
While praising Japan for its efforts to empower women, she also stressed that the country should look both internally and externally to bring about change. Within its borders, Japan should focus on political, economic and social transformations, and at the same time take the lead in global equality worldwide.
Japan’s first lady, Akie Abe, said that still more progress will be needed worldwide to achieve a level of empowerment in which women can realize their full potential. She pointed to the importance of women’s perspectives to achieve sustainability and peace in the changing world.
“Women hold the key to the new era,” the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
On the first day of the symposium, attendees discussed challenges female entrepreneurs face. This year’s theme focuses on strategies aimed at empowerment in the changing world and women’s positive contribution to the global economy.
The panelists included Kathy Matsui, vice chair and chief Japan strategist at Goldman Sachs Japan Co., who coined the name “womenomics,” and Arancha Gonzalez, executive director of the International Trade Center.
Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to her father, U.S. President Donald Trump, is expected to attend and give a speech on women’s economic participation on Friday, the last day of the symposium.