Relevant Cabinet ministers on June 22 adopted an action plan to support women who try to find employment or start businesses. The government plans to incorporate it into the “Japan resuscitation strategy” this summer.

As the ministers pointed out, women are the greatest under-utilized resource that Japan possesses. According to an estimate presented at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit held in September 2011 in San Francisco, reducing the barrier to women’s entry into the labor market would increase Japan’s gross domestic product by as much as 16 percent while the corresponding figure for the United States is 9 percent.

It is hoped that the government will prepare a detailed road map that will contain effective programs to help change the mindset of men and enterprises, and increase women’s participation in social and economic activities.

In Japan, if working women have children, their difficulties increase. Many have to quit their jobs due to a shortage of supportive measures. Even if they continue to work, in most cases they have to go to child daycare centers every day.

If mothers choose to re-enter the workforce, they find it difficult to land permanent positions at companies. Many are forced to serve as a “safety valve” in the job market.

Generally speaking, men practically monopolize decision-making positions at enterprises and women are relegated to auxiliary positions.

The action plan has three main pillars: changing men’s mind-sets, positive measures to support women, and making public servants set good examples for the private sector to follow. It has set a goal of increasing the percentage of male national public servants taking childcare leave to 13 percent by 2020.

The National Personnel Authority will consider introducing a special leave system for female national public servants who have to temporarily leave their jobs because their husbands are transferred to distant places. It is hoped that the private sector will follow up with similar efforts.

The government also has a plan to provide initial funds to women hoping to start businesses and give them “intellectual support” from lawyers and certified public accountants. It should be remembered that the current tax and pension systems tend to deprive women of incentives to work. If the annual income of the wife of a salaried worker is less than ¥1.3 million, she can get the right to a pension without paying pension premiums.

There is also a taxable income deduction for married couples. These systems coupled with a shortage of child daycare centers may be making women reluctant to seek employment. Informed public discussions should be held on these points.

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