National / Social Issues

Six years into Abe's womenomics push, women in Japan still struggling to shine

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

Six years have passed since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced plans to create a “Japan in which women can shine,” urging more working mothers to take on leadership positions with pride.

But as the world marked International Women’s Day on Friday, few women have taken on the challenges that remain firmly in place in Japan despite the womenomics policy adopted by Abe. Many continue to face hurdles that include entrenched social perceptions and a disproportionate burden in maintaining family homes.

According to a report released Thursday by the International Labour Organization to mark International Women’s Day, the ratio of Japanese women in management and other leadership positions stayed stuck at 12 percent in 2018, while the ratio of women in those positions globally was 27.1 percent. Japan’s figure remains the lowest among the Group of Seven nations, up just 3.6 points from 1991.

In the World Economic Forum’s annual World Gender Gap Index in 2018, Japan was ranked 110 out of 149 countries, although it had moved up four spots from the previous year mainly due to narrower wage gaps and an increase in women’s employment.

The main culprit behind Japan’s low ranking, which has remained below 100 for several years, is scant female participation in the political arena. Figures released by the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union earlier this week revealed that Japan was ranked lowest among Group of 20 nations in terms of the percentage of female politicians, with women occupying just 10.2 percent of 463 seats in the Lower House.

Negative perceptions regarding women in top leadership roles, both in politics and the private sector, remain persistent not only among Japanese men but also among women.

In a study released in November by Women Political Leaders and Kantar Public, which surveyed some 1,000 adults from each of the Group of Seven countries, only 28 percent of Japanese women said they would feel comfortable with having a woman as the CEO of a major company. The highest rating in the G7 — 70 percent — was recorded among women in the United States.

While the figures align with perceptions — both inside and outside of Japan — that women living and working in the nation face difficulties, grassroots efforts to highlight accomplished women have emerged.

Last year the Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field was enacted, and on Thursday a civic group that aims to increase the number of female lawmakers met to discuss the issue. Participants, including lawmakers from several parties, reported on the measures they currently saw in place as well as their goals for bringing more women into the political arena. The group, named “the team that promotes a quota system,” pledged together with the lawmakers to remind voters and politicians that increasing the number of female lawmakers will deliver a brighter future for Japan.

Last year Melanie Brock, a longtime Australian resident of Japan, launched Celebrating Women in Japan, an initiative designed to highlight the work of talented women in the nation. Using social media, the project publishes profiles of women in Japan who play active roles in business and public life.

“Once people know more about what Japanese women are already doing, in spite of all of the obstacles that exist, maybe that’s when Japan sees the value of that, too,” Brock told The Japan Times last year.

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