Japan: women’s empowerment

02-03-2017

The world’s third largest economy has not yet done enough to encourage its female talent. Prospects for women in Japan are excellent in terms of literacy, enrolment in primary and secondary education, and healthy life expectancy. However, the picture changes if we look at women’s reduced participation in political and professional life. In 2016, three women ascended to top political jobs in Japan: Tomomi Inada was appointed Minister of Defence; Yuriko Koike was elected Governor of Tokyo; and the Democratic Party elected Rehnō Murata as its President. These may be signs that Japan’s conservative political culture is starting to open up for female politicians. Meanwhile Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s ‘Womenomics’ programme aims to promote women’s empowerment and ‘create a society in which women shine’. However, despite some encouraging results, much remains to be done. Issues such as the gender pay gap, maternity harassment, and a lack of childcare need to be tackled in order to increase women’s labour force participation and improve their prospects of having a career with the same possibilities as their male colleagues. Women also need more job security, while the labour market rather offers this opportunity to men. A change in Japan’s corporate culture might be also necessary: a departure from the prevalent model of long working hours would allow both men and women to enjoy a more adequate work-life balance and would encourage families to have more children, helping the country tackle the consequences of a fast-ageing society.

The world’s third largest economy has not yet done enough to encourage its female talent. Prospects for women in Japan are excellent in terms of literacy, enrolment in primary and secondary education, and healthy life expectancy. However, the picture changes if we look at women’s reduced participation in political and professional life. In 2016, three women ascended to top political jobs in Japan: Tomomi Inada was appointed Minister of Defence; Yuriko Koike was elected Governor of Tokyo; and the Democratic Party elected Rehnō Murata as its President. These may be signs that Japan’s conservative political culture is starting to open up for female politicians. Meanwhile Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s ‘Womenomics’ programme aims to promote women’s empowerment and ‘create a society in which women shine’. However, despite some encouraging results, much remains to be done. Issues such as the gender pay gap, maternity harassment, and a lack of childcare need to be tackled in order to increase women’s labour force participation and improve their prospects of having a career with the same possibilities as their male colleagues. Women also need more job security, while the labour market rather offers this opportunity to men. A change in Japan’s corporate culture might be also necessary: a departure from the prevalent model of long working hours would allow both men and women to enjoy a more adequate work-life balance and would encourage families to have more children, helping the country tackle the consequences of a fast-ageing society.