This year, Japan will host the G20 summit in June in Osaka, as well as the fifth World Assembly for Women (WAW!) and the Women 20 (W20) Japan 2019, which will be held jointly at the Hotel New Otani Tokyo in Chiyoda Ward on March 23 and 24.

WAW! is an initiative led by the Japanese government to realize “the society where women shine.” This annual conference has been developing in line with the promotion of women’s active participation in society, one of the key policies of the current administration led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Let’s collect the wisdom from everyone regardless of sex or age, and draw a dream for a better society,” said Abe in a message on the government’s WAW! and W20 website. He also mentioned that for the first time in the history of WAW!, female foreign ministers from around the world are invited.

The W20 is one of the G20 engagement groups that make policy recommendations to the G20. The first W20 meeting was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2015 to act on the 25 by 25 commitment of reducing the labor force participation gap between men and women to 25 percent by 2025, adopted at the G20 Brisbane summit in 2014.

Based on the G20’s shared understanding that women’s advancement in society reinforces economic growth, the annual conference has been the driving force for achieving the Brisbane commitment over the past four years.

Argentina was last year’s host for the G20 summit and the meetings of G20’s engagement groups, including the W20. Led by Susana Balbo, the chair of the W20 Argentina 2018, four topics were discussed — labor inclusion, digital inclusion, financial inclusion and rural development.

The achievements of the conference were compiled into policy recommendations that were presented to Argentine President Mauricio Macri, leader of the G20 in 2018. As a result, “gender mainstreaming strategy” was chosen as one of the main focuses of last year’s G20 summit, prompting extensive dialogue among the leaders of the world’s major economies on gender equality.

In the G20 leaders’ declaration issued after the summit held in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, leaders promised to continue promoting initiatives aimed at eliminating all forms of gender-based discrimination and violence. Leaders also committed to promote women’s economic empowerment, access to leadership and decision-making positions, as well as the development of women’s digital skills and participation in high-tech sectors. Taking a step forward from this declaration and the achievement of last year’s G20 and W20, this year’s WAW! and W20 in Tokyo will call for substantial actions and results.

Abe’s administration has been making efforts to enhance women’s participation in various sectors. WAW! is one such effort. The Headquarters for Creating a Society in which All Women Shine was established in 2014 under the initiative of the government to create frameworks and guidelines for making policies that encourage more participation of women in society.

The government has also been promoting the hiring of more female public service personnel and supporting them to achieve better work-life balance, to make the government itself a model employer.

Abe’s administration also enacted the Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace in 2016. It requires all companies with over 300 employees to assess and analyze the situation and issues, make and announce action plans, set numerical targets and disclose information and status of the progress.

The wage gap between men and women is shrinking gradually. Women’s wages were 73.4 percent of men’s in 2017, an improvement of 0.4 percent from the previous year, according to statistics published by the Cabinet Office. The ratio of female board members at listed companies increased from 3.4 percent in 2016 to 3.7 percent in 2017.

In the World Economic Forum’s global gender equality rankings for 2018, Japan was 110th out of 149 countries covered in the survey. The rise from last year’s 144th place reflected the improvement in wage gap and increased women’s participation in the workplace. Still, it requires ceaseless efforts to make Japan more inclusive, and there are companies that have been committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in their own ways.

Philip Morris Japan Ltd. offers extensive support to its female workers and a flexible work environment for all of its employees. Women accounted for 40 percent of the total new hires in 2018; 2.5 times more than five years ago. The pay gap between men and women is a minimal 0.4 percent.

Google Japan collaborates with other companies in conducting research and providing support contents to promote flexible and efficient work styles. As part of its Womenwill initiative within the Asia-Pacific region, it collects ideas to create better work environments for women.

In terms of working women’s health, Rohto Pharmaceutical Co. offers programs to help increase iron intake (deficiency is a widespread issue) and improve women’s unidentified health complaints. It also offers free rubella vaccinations to all of its employees, and works to protect pregnant workers from the risk of infection.

During the WAW! and W20, academics, ministers and government officials, business leaders, representatives of international organizations and various other players from around the world exchange ideas and insights to drive change in every corner of the globe.

The two-day conference consists of WAW! sessions, W20 sessions and joint sessions. In the opening joint session, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet will both speak.

Under the grand theme of this year’s WAW! meeting, WAW! for Diversity, particular topics such as “Women’s Participation in Conflict Prevention, Peace Building and Post Conflict Recovery” and “Diversity for Growth: Corporate Management and Working Environment” will be discussed by panels during the sessions. Abe explained in his message that “youth representatives will participate in each session to convey their messages of the future generation.”

The W20’s vision for this year is “Closing the Gender Gap for New Prosperity.” “Elimination of gender gap, which is the Sustainable Development Goal 5, is the engine powering new global growth,” said Haruno Yoshida, co-chair of the W20, ex-vice chair of the Board of Councillors of Keidanren and ex-CEO of BT Japan.

Yoshida describes the W20 as a “mass of willpower of our fellow women of different generations and origins, on a shared mission as women who have been born into this era.”

This year, the W20 will focus on four pillars — labor equity, financial equity, digital equity and governance. The W20 sessions will facilitate discussions on themes such as “Creation of New Market Value by Women Entrepreneurs” and “Towards the Gender Equality in the Digital Era.”

“The W20 represents 2.3 billion women. Women with diverse backgrounds have pulled each other together guided by the firm bond of common awareness,” said Yoshida.

The joint conference of WAW! and the W20 will be a milestone in further closing the gender gap where diversity thrives in order to attain new growth.

Download the PDF of this WAW! and W20 Special

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