Christine Lagarde, director of the International Monetary Fund, believes women can save Japan. Some would argue they already are, taking on as they do all sorts of responsibilities ranging from mother, wife and caregiver for elderly relatives to employee, volunteer and household finance minister.

The IMF's focus is on how the aging population and shrinking labor force is depressing Japan's potential growth rate. In a recent IMF report titled "Can Women Save Japan?," it's argued that increasing women's participation in the labor force, especially in career-track jobs, could boost economic growth. However, this requires overcoming two significant hurdles.

First, relatively few women land career-track jobs, constituting only 12 percent of such new hires in 2010. Secondly, many drop out of the workforce after giving birth and don't resume working as they get inadequate support to do so, and also because inflexible employment policies mean their careers have been derailed.