Japan’s attempts to create “a society in which women shine” are falling short, according to the World Economic Forum’s annual gender equality ranking.
The nation placed 121st out of the 153 countries in the rankings released Tuesday — a record low — performing by far the worst among the Group of Seven major economies.
Japan’s worsening gender equality as detailed by the Swiss-based organization’s report is sure to be a source of embarrassment for the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long proclaimed to be pushing for an increased female presence in leadership positions.
“Japan’s gender gap is by far the largest among all advanced economies and has widened over the past year,” the report said.
The WEF report showed Japan slipping from last year’s 110th place, trailing rival Asian economies such as China and South Korea, which ranked 106th and 108th, respectively. It was also significantly outpaced by its G7 peers, including Germany (10th), France (15th), Canada (19th), the United Kingdom (21st), the United States (53rd) and Italy (76th). Chiefly responsible for the lackluster performance by the world’s third-largest economy is its abysmally low female participation in politics.
According to the report, women made up just 10.1 percent and 5.3 percent of the Diet’s Lower House and Abe’s Cabinet, respectively. Globally, the ratio stood at 25 percent for women in parliament and 21 percent for ministerial positions in 2019.
At just 10 percent, “female representation in the Japanese parliament is one of the lowest in the world” and “20 percent below the average share across advanced economies,” it said.
As a result, Japan — in terms of political empowerment for women — dropped to 144th this year, from the previous year’s 125th.
Abe named only one woman to his Cabinet in an October 2018 reshuffle, which the WEF said placed Japan 139th in terms of the percentage of women in ministerial positions. The current version of the Abe Cabinet, which was launched in September, has three women among its ranks.
The nation also made little progress in closing the gap in terms of economic participation and opportunity, having merely edged up from 117th to 115th. The report said only 15 percent of senior and leadership positions were held by women in Japan.
Japan, meanwhile, fared relatively well in health and survival, coming in at No. 40, almost unchanged from last year. But it plummeted in terms of education from last year’s 65th to 91st, ranking particularly poorly for gender parity with regards to enrollment in secondary education, at No. 128.
Soon after the report’s release, Seiko Hashimoto, the female empowerment minister, reiterated that the Abe government considers boosting the profile of women as “one of its priorities,” according to Kyodo News.
“We’re asking each political party to promote gender equality. We also want to better ‘visualize’ efforts being made by companies to empower women,” Hashimoto reportedly said of the country’s particularly poor showing in the political and business fields.
Scandinavian countries maintained their leadership in closing the gender gap, with Iceland topping the ranking for the 11th consecutive year. Although the global gender gap has narrowed compared with last year, “it will still require 99.5 years to achieve full parity at the current pace,” the report said.
Yuki Senda, a sociology professor at Musashi University in Tokyo, attributed the underrepresentation of women in politics to what she perceives to be a dearth of female lawmakers who can serve as role models.
“In Japan, female candidates for elections are often talked about in terms of their appearance or tapped to run because they’re some TV celebrity,” Senda said. “There have been cases as well where women politicians are expected to say more radical things than their male peers because they think that’s the only way for them to earn a place” in the male-dominated world of Japanese politics.
As a result, female voters might be left feeling detached and ultimately discouraged from entering politics, unsure of how female politicians can make their lives better, the professor said.
The report also estimated that at the glacial rate of progress toward equality seen in the period between 2006 and 2020, it will take the world another 257 years to close the gap in the area of economic participation and opportunity, whereas 94.5 more years are needed to eliminate gender disparity in political empowerment.
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