"The more the advancement of women in society is promoted, the higher the growth rate becomes."
This was the idea of former Prime Minister ABE Shinzo when he started the World Assembly for Women, WAW!, in 2014. Since then, the conferences have aimed to provide a platform from Japan for exchanging ideas on how the international community can achieve gender equality.
WAW! is back on December 3, 2022, taking place for the first time in three years. How has women's participation in society changed since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, global economic disruptions, and the war in Ukraine?
These are some of what the WAW!2022 will set out to discuss. The event will be held in Tokyo, and is organized by the government of Japan.
Women Making a Difference
A conference by itself doesn't make a difference. It's the women — and men — who attend it that do. And this is also the case for WAW!.
Over the years it has enjoyed the participation of eminent guests, such as Malala Yousafzai, Christine Lagarde, Marne Levine, and KOIKE Yuriko, to name a few. These leaders are women who have been forging the way on the challenges taken up at WAW!.
Take Malala Yousafzai, for example. The Pakistani female education activist and recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was the keynote speaker at the 5th WAW! Conference in 2019. Despite the threats to her life, she has never given up advocating her powerful message that "one book and one pen can change the world."
Or take Christine Lagarde, who was managing director of the International Monetary Fund back then and is president of the European Central Bank now. Lagarde inspired many with her remarks at the 2014 WAW! Conference, when she noted that equal opportunities and empowerment of women were crucial for driving a stronger global recovery and for revitalizing Japan.
From the business world, Marne Levine delivered the keynote speech in 2016, when she was COO at Instagram. Now chief business officer at Meta, she continues to forge paths for women in business leadership.
Ideas Leading to Action
First hosted in 2014 under Prime Minister Abe, WAW! was part of a wider idea of promoting gender equality and women's empowerment through women's participation in society following the lines of his signature policy, "Womenomics."
What's more, WAW! is not just talk. Based on discussions in WAW!, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and other organizations have come together, funding these initiatives for the education and economic empowerment of girls and women around the world.
For example, JICA projects have helped provide four million girls and women the opportunity for high-quality education and human resources development in just the years between 2018 and 2020.
Moreover, working through international agencies, Japan has offered support to women in vulnerable situations, such as victims of gender-based violence, among other initiatives.
As part of Japan's effort of hosting the G20 in Osaka in 2019, the government held WAW! jointly with the engagement group Women20 (W20). With the participation of then-United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, some of the themes discussed included human resource development in a changing society with technology transformation, job creation and leadership roles for women on a local level, and initiatives in media and schools to help free girls to make their own choices.
On the Agenda in 2022
Titled "WAW! for Mainstreaming Gender into a New Form of Capitalism," this year's assembly will be held in a hybrid format and will be streamed online on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan on the day of the conference. The main theme takes inspiration from Japanese Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio's flagship economic policy dedicated to creating a virtuous cycle of economic growth.
WAW!2022 creates a platform for world leaders and experts to discuss how to create a better society and realize gender equality. A variety of topics are on the agenda, starting with those which have become more apparent due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other disruptions in global stability. Coming into focus will be barriers women have been facing and women’s possibilities in:
- Digital transformation (DX)
- Creating a carbon-neutral society
- Women's participation in decision-making
- Women’s roles in peace and security processes .
Additionally, participants will share views on:
- Eliminating the wage gap between men and women.
- Ways of preventing and eliminating gender-based violence
- Enhancing awareness and engagement among men
- Addressing the needs of women in the context of the natural disaster response.
These build on themes initiated in previous WAW! summits. For example, in 2017 Japan shared its gender-focused approach in disaster relief, following the Kumamoto earthquake in 2016.
While the main WAW!2022 event is scheduled for only one day on December 3, official side events "WAW! Weeks" providing opportunities for in-depth development of ideas take place throughout the year.
Expectations for WAW!2022
Looking ahead, WAW!2022 is expected to provide a place for substantive engagement on the economic and social empowerment of women and girls.
"UN Women and Japan are longstanding and proud partners for equality and women’s leadership. I look forward to working together at the WAW! conference in Tokyo to redouble our efforts, and to live up to our shared commitments at this most crucial time," said Sima Sami Bahous, Executive Director of United Nations Women, prior to the upcoming meeting.
Speaking on September 21 at the HeForShe Summit held in New York, Prime Minister Kishida highlighted the importance of advancing gender equality on the global stage:
As a responsible member of the international community, we (Japan) will continue to listen to various voices of the international community and will make strong contributions toward realizing gender equality.
This article is published in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
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Author: JAPAN Forward