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Spotlight: Japan's advancement stifled by gender disparity, listless female empowerment moves

Xinhua, January 16, 2017 Adjust font size:

Japan, despite being the world's third largest economy, ranks 111 out of 140 countries when it comes to gender disparities, according to the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Report.

Experts on the matter maintain that while Japan has traditionally been a patriarchal society in which men have typically been the bread winners while their female counterparts have commonly been homemakers, the past three decades has seen a shift in such attitudes, with more women joining the workforce and holding senior positions as well as being represented in parliament.

The shift, however, is far from representing the pace at which Japan needs to develop to escape its protracted economic malaise initially brought on by the "bubble years."

Further headwinds include the pressing demographic predicament Japan is now facing which involves the simultaneous aging and shrinking population.

In a recent report, the United Nations warned Japan that its population would shrink to 83 million by 2100, owing to the nation's declining birthrate.

Mari Miura, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, believes that in terms of government promises made to address the nation's gender disparities, much more needs to be done.

"The basic reason (Japan lags behind other countries in gender equality in the world) is that there is still a huge gender pay gap between men and women in the economy. The other reason is the underrepresentation of women in politics," Miura said.

"There is a huge pay gap between regular workers and non-regular workers in Japan. Currently 40 percent of workers are so-called non-regular workers, including part-time workers or dispatch workers. Those non-regular workers receive less job security and are paid less, and about 60 percent of women actually are non-regular workers," she said.

One of the major reasons cited by Miura for women discontinuing work is due to a lack of daycare facilities, an issue which the government has purportedly addressed by the creation of additional facilities, but the numbers, locations and educational standards of many of these facilities have been deemed inadequate, inconvenient and sub-par.

"Once women have their first child, two-thirds of women actually quit their jobs. If you quit a job, it is very difficult to find the next job," said Miura.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his UN speech in 2013, stressed the need for women's empowerment, but Japan has dropped 10 places in the Global Gender Gap Index since then.

Abe's attempts to lead in gender parity have met with mixed reactions as past and present female members of his cabinet harbor some extremely archaic views on gender roles and equality.

Abe pledged to raise the ratio of women in leadership positions in all fields to at least 30 percent by 2020, but the target has since been lowered to a meager 7 percent in the public sector and 15 percent in the private sector by his cabinet.

Although the election of Yuriko Koike in 2016 as Tokyo's first female governor has given the society a strong female role model to look up to, women are still hugely underrepresented in business and politics.

"Especially in terms of politics, people do not pay attention at all to women's underrepresentation. It is only recently that people started to know the fact that there is less than 10 percent (of females) in the Assembly," Miura said.

She said all political parties should make a bigger commitment to gender equality and civil organizations should push for this, while the media should focus on comparing all parties with respect to the ratio of women in nominations, for example. Endit