Despite being the third largest economy in the world, Japan ranks far behind other nations when it comes to gender equality. Japan ranked 104th in gender equality out of 142 countries and territories. Belgium ranks 10th in this report. The report shows that although wealthier countries tend to be fairer when it comes to gender, Japan seems to be one notable exception…

Also according to the report, the rate of female participation in Japan’s workforce is only 63%, compared to 85% for men. Among the employed, 35% of women are in part-time employment, compared to 10% of men.

Womenomics

In 1999, a team of analysts led by Kathy Matsui at Goldman Sachs concluded that Japan could increase its GDP by as much as 15% by bringing more women into the workforce and closing the gender gulf that has formed in the Japanese labour market. Now, more than 14 years since Matsui’s legendary exposé of gender politics in Japan, things are finally beginning to change. The term ‘womenomics’, lifted from Matsui’s paper, is finally part in the Japanese political dictionary, thanks to Shinzo Abe.

Abenomics

Womenomics is a vital component of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s much praised reform plans, known as Abenomics. Abe is committed to modernising the Japanese economy, hauling it out of deflation and back into growth. His aim was to revive the economy with “three arrows”: a massive fiscal stimulus, more aggressive monetary easing from the Bank of Japan and structural reforms to boost Japan’s competitiveness.

At the 2014 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe identified Japan’s female workforce as the country’s most underused resource and stated his intention for 30% of all senior leadership posts to be occupied by women in 2020.

Behind Abe’s 30% target and the proposed legislation is a sense of crisis; unless Japan encourages more women to join, Japan could face a serious workforce shortage due to its rapidly ageing and declining population, casting doubts over the nation’s future economic growth and sustainability of its social security system.

Japan’s population is aging and shrinking faster than any other country in the developed world. It shrank by its largest amount on record in 2014. Roughly 1.001 million people were born and 1.269 million people died.

Japan’s birth rate is about 1.3 children per woman – similar to or even higher than many European countries. But countries in Europe have staved off population decline by importing workers. In Japan on the other hand, immigration is strictly limited.

About 60% of women leave their jobs when they have their first child. The ratio of women in regular full-time employment is highest in the 25-to-29 age bracket. It then declines after that as many women become irregular workers. Many women quit their jobs because they think it’s too tough to work fulltime while raising young children and running the household. Abe has announced a series of reforms including ensuring sufficient childcare centers for 300,000 children by March 2020; requiring listed companies to disclose the number of female executives by March 2015; and reviewing the tax and social security system to ensure its neutrality toward women workers. So far, Abe’s concrete plans for bringing more women into the workforce are still a little vague and there is quite some opposition from the traditionalists. But Japanese women seem to be responding positively and the key point here, is that Abe’s is the first administration that has even mentioned women’s participation and giving women the public support that has long been missing in Japan. At least that is a step forward.