We like to think that Asian women have come far and long in ensuring fair career opportunities but that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case for everyone. Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has prided himself on his stance on womenomics, the average Japanese careerwomen, it seems, are trying their best to ‘lean-in”, to borrow Sandberg parlance. They are opting out of careers instead – when they realise that they cannot balance it all.
The average Japanese woman must find reliable day care, struggle with office hours, negotiate cutting back on working hours with spouse and generally go out on a limb to ensure she can manage it all. Research shows that only 38 percent of Japanese women go back to work after a pregnancy. Critics like to point out that companies themselves haven’t exactly expressed solidarity with womenomics.
In September, The World Assembly for Women was held in Tokyo and brought international and Japanese leaders across politics and business spheres together to champion t he need for women t o accompany the men in fuelling the Japanese economy. On t he sidelines of the Assembly, Cherie Blair too held discussions with PM Abe on how best women can be included.The key focus of the event was t o encourage and foster women in the country’s economic growth and the workforce. It is no secret that Japan has an ageing population and must harness the women into the labour force if it is to stay competitive.
Records show that although Japanese women graduates can be said to be among some of the best qualified in the world, the opportunities in the workplace are not the same for men and women. Although the Equal Opportunity Employment law became effective in 1986, the flow down effect does not seem to have been achieved. Experts point out that including more women in the employment sector could see some seven million people joining t he labour force, which can increase the gross domestic product (GDP) of Japan by almost 13 percent.
Only 1 percent of women are represented on the corporate boards in Japan. Around 60 percent of women leave their jobs following the birth of their first child. Although the rest of the world has made giant strides towards including women in their workforce, that doesn’t seem to have happened in Japan.
A greater role of men is also called for – it seems only 2.6 percent of men in Japan take paternity leave, they fear their career prospects may be affected. Maybe the men need to take a more supportive role, analysts believe, if the women are to be fully utilised into the workforce.
The resignation of two women appointed to the Cabinet by PM Abe may not have helped the cause of womenomics in Japan but there are those who believe that it could actually be a turnaround for women. Fortune magazine reports that seeing two women leave Cabinet ranks may actually be better for women in the long run.
Less than two months following their appointment to the Japanese Cabinet by PM Abe, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima resigned this week, over financial irregularities. They were seemingly small gestures but were feared to be overexploited in the murky waters of political scandal. Many wondered whether the move would make a dent in Abe’s ambitious plan to have 30 percent of leadership positions filled by women by 2020. But that may not be so.Bringing women to all levels of leadership positions call for greater inclusion of women at both political and non-political levels as much as it calls for greater accommodation of women’s needs. Reliable day care facilities, flex-hours at work, more benefits for women returning to work after having children and greater childcare facilities maybe the right places to start.
Womenomics as a concept, initiated by the Japanese Prime Minister, must be admired for what it is trying to achieve – that of seeing more women become empowered economically. It must be commended for its merits but like all programmes, it must offer real term benefits for women who must be able to truly make use of those benefits for themselves and their careers.We are coming upon the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 2015 – the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – both occasions may be ideal platforms to measure the effectiveness of gender-focused programmes put in place during the period.
Whether in Japan or elsewhere although greater strides have been made concerning gender equality, more needs to be done. The road towards true equality is still a long way off and hopefully, concepts such as womenomics may help us go there – eventually.