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Japan’s Woeful Record on Gender Equality

Shiori Yamao 1

Democratic Party policy chief Shiori Yamao surrounded by journalists

By Nobuaki Masaki

SNA (Tokyo) — The Abe administration “is a male chauvinist regime.”

This is what Shiori Yamao, policy chief of the Democratic Party, claimed in a budget committee session in the House of Representatives on May 16.

In the session, Yamao raised the issue of the low salaries for child-care givers, but the agenda soon shifted into the wider debate of gender inequality. This is considered to be a lingering problem in Japan, which ranks 101 out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2015.

The index indicates that economic participation and opportunity, a key criterion used by the World Economic Forum in determining the gender gap, is unequal between men and women in Japanese society. According to the index, economic participation and opportunity for women has been largely stagnant since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said back in 2013 that womenomics was an important part of Abenomics. In fact, it has even regressed in comparison to other countries.

The term “womenomics” was not coined in by Abe, but by Kathy Matsui, Chief Japan Strategist at Goldman Sachs, in a 1999 report. Today Matsui thinks that although Japan has made progress in integrating more women into the workforce, their work, often in part-time positions, tends to be unstable.

The government seemed to realize the need to elevate the positions of women almost a decade ago when in 2003 then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi set a goal of having women occupy 30% of leadership positions by 2020. However, in late 2015, this goal was sharply scaled back by the Abe government to 7% by 2021. According to a 2014 Catalyst report, only 3.1% of board seats were held by women in Japan, which ranked worst in the Asia-Pacific region on this scale.

Norway, which has the second best gender equality in the world according to the Global Gender Gap Index, has a different agenda when it comes to women in leadership positions. In 2003 it passed a law requiring 40% of board members in listed companies be female. The effects of this quota are considered to be largely positive, with some sources suggesting that a more diverse boardroom better reflects the diversity of consumers. Since 2003, many countries, mainly in Europe, have established similar laws.

Although a 40% quota is likely to be impossible in Japan, at least for the near future, Matsui outlines ways in which Japan can narrow the gender gap in her newest 2014 report, Womenomics 4.0. Apart from the government and private sector, she also describes the role that should be taken by Japanese society, which she thinks is hindering female employment: “Society at large also needs to… encourage greater gender equality at home.”

Nobuaki Masaki is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency

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