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Japan ranks 101st globally for gender equality, but Web users shrug

By Max Fisher, Published: October 28, 2012 at 7:34 amE-mail the writer

Japanese women walk down a Tokyo shopping street. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) The annual World Economic Forum report on gender gaps, which measures social and political gender equality across 135 countries, has placed Japan 101st on the global ranking. That places Japanese women alongside those of, for example, Tajikistan or Gambia in terms of their political and social equality in society. Bangladesh ranks 15 points higher. How did Web users in Japan react? The editors at JapanCrush, a just-launched blog that follows Japanese social media, parsed and translated some responses. It's a purely anecdotal collection, but the largely dismissive responses might inform whatever Japanese social attitudes could be linked to the country's poor ranking. "Some netizens suggested that the rankings favoured the Scandinavian countries that occupied the top positions," the JapanCrush editor wrote. "Furthermore, many commenters seem to imply that women and men are inherently different, and that women should just be housewives since it makes them happy." Head over to JapanCrush to read through the responses, but here are two representative examples from their findings: The way societies are constructed varies, so as a rule we cant really compare them, can we? There are plenty of women around who want to become housewives. Social development is not gender equality that takes the shape of something we can see; the criteria should be whether men and women have their chosen paths obstructed because of their gender. We shouldnt just drag women into working society against their will for the sake of statistics when they long to be housewives.

I think its crazy that there is not much difference in salary between a woman who fiddles with her smart phone all day at work and a man who works on site and does office work. Harvard sociologist Mary C. Brinton, in her landmark book on women in post-war Japan, argues that the country's education system, labor market and institutions developed during the post-war reconstruction and "economic miracle" in ways that produce "a high level of gender differentiation and stratification in the economy" and thus across Japanese society.

Japan: The worst developed country for working mothers?

By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes BBC News, Tokyo Japanese women are more likely to have a university degree than men, and the number of women in employment has been rising steadily for 10 years - but, for a range of reasons, a woman who has had children still has a hard time getting a good job. Nobuko Ito is the very model of a modern professional Japanese woman. She is a qualified lawyer and she speaks fluent English. She has years of experience working in international contract law. But Nobuko no longer works in a big international law firm. The reason? She has three small children. According to Japanese government statistics by far the biggest reason why Japanese women quit their jobs after childbirth is that Japanese "working hours make child care unfeasible". "Before I had a child I remember one busy month where I billed the client for 300 hours!" Nobuko says.

Nobuko Ito says Japanese men fear losing their job if they take paternity leave

"I'd get in the office at 09:00 in the morning, and leave at 03:00 the next morning, and I'd come in on Saturday and Sunday. "If you want to keep working you have to forget about your children, you have to just devote yourself to the company. "I can't do this, it's impossible."

As Nobuko's example shows Japan's working culture can be brutal. It's one of the reasons why 70% of Japanese women still give up work as soon as they have their first child. Another is their husbands. When it comes to housework Japanese men are still far behind their counterparts in Europe or America. In Sweden, Germany and the US husbands spend, on average, three hours a day helping out with children and household chores. In Japan it's one hour, and they spend just 15 minutes a day with their children.

The pay gap

Many Japanese women still withdraw from the labour force upon childbirth and often cannot resume their regular employment pattern: in the dual Japanese labour market, women often end up in relatively lowly-paid non-regular employment. The gender pay gap at median earnings is the second highest in the OECD. Then there is paternity leave. Japanese men are entitled to take it, but only a tiny minority actually do - just 2.63%, according to the Health and Welfare ministry. "My husband didn't take paternity leave" Nobuko Ito says. "Most Japanese men are very hesitant to use the system. They may want to come back home to help with the family, but on the other hand they think they need to work as hard as possible otherwise they may not get promoted, or they may lose their job." Despite all this Nobuko, like many Japanese mums, wants to continue working. She now runs her own law practice from an office near her home. But the next hurdle she and other Japanese mothers face is childcare, or rather the lack of it. According to the Tokyo government's own statistics there are 20,000 children in the city waiting for places in day-care centres. The government centres that do exist are good, but they are far too few. And even if you do get a place it's means-tested and can be expensive - around 70,000 Yen ($737, 484) per month for the first child.

Japanese fathers make a "limited" contribution to childcare, and do less housework than men from other developed countries, the OECD says

"I'd get a discount for having three children, but it would still be at least $1,000 a month even at the state nursery," says Nobuko Ito. "At an expensive private nursery it can cost $2,000 a month per child. But those are really good!" she says laughing.

Kathy Matsui's Womenomics

Japan's female employment rate of 60% still ranks well below that of many other developed countries such as Norway at 75%, the US at 66%, and Germany at 64%. Roughly 70% of Japanese women quit working after giving birth to their first child. This compares to around onethird of women in the US. The ratio of Japanese mothers with children under six who work (34%) remains extremely low compared to 76% in Sweden, 61% in the US, 55% in the UK, and 53% in Germany.

All of this adds up to two things. Women who are having children are not working. Women who are working are not having children. Both are terrible for Japan's future. In her ground-breaking work Womenomics: Japan's Hidden Asset, Japanese-American economist Kathy Matsui says getting more Japanese mothers to stay in work or go back to work should be a "national priority". She says it could add as much as 15% to Japan's GDP. But Matsui says there is another even more pressing reason. Japan is running out of people. "Although a low fertility rate is common among other developed countries, Japan may be the only OECD nation where the number of pets exceeds the number of children," she says. Japan's birth rate is just 1.37 births per woman, far below the 2.1 figure at which a population remains stable. Evidence from Europe and America suggest helping women to stay in work can increase the birth rate.

Each Swedish child is guaranteed a place at a public preschool and no parent is charged more than three per cent of their salary. The state subsidy for preschool services is more than the annual defence budget. In countries like Sweden, Denmark and the US, where female employment rates are high, birth rates are also higher. In countries where female employment is low, like Italy, South Korea and Japan, birth rates are also low. In Japan a demographic crisis is already under way. In 2006 Japan's population began to shrink. If current trends persist it will lose a third of its population in the next half century. Nothing like that has ever happened before.

Can`womenomics' save Japan?

By Diana Magnay, CNN May 22, 2013

Tokyo (CNN) -- "Women are Japan's most underutilized resource." So said Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April as he outlined a raft of measures aimed at closing the gender gap in the Japanese workforce. As a Western journalist new to Japan, it is a shock that it takes an economic argument to move the government to act toward more female participation in the workforce. But it's not just a foreign perspective. The noted economist Noriko Hama writes in the Japan Times this week, "You secure better working conditions for women because they have a rightful claim to such treatment. No other reasoning or justification is necessary to do something that is decent and just." Nevertheless, if you are a prime minister in urgent search of growth, the numbers behind so-called "womenomics" in Japan are compelling. 'If you were to close the employment gap between Japanese men, which is 80%, one of the highest in the OECD, with Japanese women -- which is still around 60% -- we estimate that you'd add about 8.2 million workers into the Japanese workforce," says Kathy Matsui of Goldman Sachs, who has long championed the cause. That influx of female workers "could lift the asset level of Japanese GDP by as much as 14%," she adds. Now Prime Minister Abe is trying to force corporations to act. He has set targets of at least one female executive per company and offered tax incentives to companies that encourage mothers to return to work.

Despite equal employment opportunities enshrined into law in 1986, real equality within most domestic Japanese companies remains within the realm of fantasy-land. Naoko Toyoda had worked for 10 years with an IT company but was demoted to a starting position when she came back after the birth of her first child. "Women who choose not to have a child would continue up the corporate ladder while those who did would be forced into semi-retirement," she says. She didn't expect flexibility from the company's side though. "Once one exception is allowed, other mothers would complain they weren't treated in the same way," she says. So she quit. According to Goldman Sachs, some 70% of Japanese women choose to leave the workforce after they've had children. That's more than twice the number in the U.S. or Germany. But unlike the U.S. and Germany -- where childcare is cited as the major factor for why women leave work -- in Japan, uncompromising work environments, which demand face-time and offer little career mobility for women, persuade most mothers to give up corporate life. A 2011 study by the Center for Work-Life Policy called "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Japan: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success" found that three quarters of Japanese women want to rejoin the workforce after they've had children, but only 43% manage to get their careers back on track. Those who do return to work tend to take salary cuts and often find themselves, like Toyoda, marginalized within the company. Cosmetics giant Shiseido does better than most. Since 1990 its childcare support program has been in continual evolution, providing employees with extensive leaves of parental absence, shorter working hours, childcare subsidies and on-site nursery facilities. It is also working on a gender equality action plan to boost its ratio of female leaders though it admits it will miss its slated target of 30% by end 2013. Shigeto Ohtsuki, executive director of human resources at Shiseido, describes the management style in the past as "very slow moving." Even though Shiseido is an example of corporate best practice in Japan, Ohtsuki admits there is still some way to go along the road towards true daibashitii, the Japanese word for diversity. "The female leader ratio in Japan Shiseido Group, representing 25,000 employees is still 25.6% whereas female leader ratio overseas where we have 20,000 employees is almost 60%," Ohtsuki says. Yuki Honda joined Shiseido in 1989. She met her husband there and they have two children. She feels grateful to the company for continuing to support and promote her throughout. "I think I was fortunate with this company because they did not assume we women would quit after childbirth and they educated us so we'd continue to work," she says. Japan's bleak demographic outlook is well known. The birth-rate is shrinking, the population is getting older and there are fewer workers' to pay for the nation's pensioners. The IMF forecasts Japan's population will shrink by around 30% by 2055. Abe's push to make the workplace a more hospitable place for women -- quite apart from the argument that it's just more fair -- is also a matter of economic survival. Whether Japan's male corporate bosses are listening remains to be seen.

Womenomics Talk by Kathy Matsui at TEDxTokyo


Use the information given in Ms. Matsuis presentation to answer the following:

1) By how much is the population of Japan expected to shrink by 2055? What percentage of that population will be senior citizens?

2) What are the 3 solutions mentioned by Ms. Matsui to Japans declining labor force? a) b) c)

3) What percentage of women currently participate in the workforce? Has that rate risen or fallen?

4) What is meant by the M-Curve? What causes it? What age range does Ms. Matsui consider the most productive in a persons career? What percentage of Japanese mothers quit working after their first child?

5) What 4 reasons are given why the participation rate of women in the workforce is low in Japan compared to other OECD countries? a) b) c) d)

6) What percentage of mens pay do women in Japan make on average?

7) According to the graph shown, how does increased female employment affect fertility rates (birth rates) in OECD countries?

8) By what percentage is the GDP projected to increase if the number of women in the workforce equals that of men?

9) Out of 257 immigrant nurses, how many passed the Japanese nursing certification test?

10) (Refer to the articles) Do you think the current initiatives by Shinzo Abe to close the gender gap are going to work? Why or why not?