It has been quite some time since the concept of promotion of women's empowerment has taken a prominent place in our lexicon. A decade ago, "women's empowerment" was designated a cornerstone of the Three Arrows growth strategy. That was during the second Shinzo Abe administration. A short two years later, the Act on Promotion of Women's Participation and Advancement in the Workplace became law. It might be said that women have been progressing, albeit at a measured pace.
However, in June 2023, the World Economic Forum unveiled the WEF Gender Gap Index. It ranked our country at 125th place out of 146 nations, marking an unprecedented low. Of particular concern was our ranking in the political category. The WEF index placed us at the bottom, 138th in the world.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's recently reshuffled cabinet assumed office on September 13. Five women were appointed as ministers. However, there are no women in positions of vice minister or parliamentary secretary. It will be intriguing to observe how the WEF assesses this situation.
Japan's Economic Future Depends on Progress
As long as we continue to use the term "promotion" of women's empowerment, we cannot achieve a genuine platform for advancing women in Japan. My belief is borne out by a look at both population ratios and global trends. An environment conducive to women's empowerment will only exist when we are able to confidently declare that gender disparity has affirmatively disappeared.
Assuming constant productivity and capital, the real gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to decrease. Estimates suggest that the GDP, which stood at around ¥536 trillion JPY ($3.61 trillion USD) in 2021, is likely to fall below ¥480 trillion JPY ($3.2 trillion USD) by 2040.
However, if we envision a scenario where the female labor force participation rate matches that of males, it is estimated that the real GDP in 2040 could reach ¥520 trillion JPY ($3.5 trillion USD). This would reduce the decline by approximately ¥40 trillion JPY ($270 billion USD).
Thus, failing to harness the potential of women in the workforce can be succinctly described as "an opportunity missed."
Barriers to Women
The issue of restricting women's working hours due to the income barrier has gained significant attention recently. However, it remains unresolved.
This so-called "1.3 million yen barrier" refers to the point at which one's income exceeds ¥1.3 million JPY ($8,750 USD). Reaching that level causes women to lose dependent status under their spouse's insurance coverage. In turn, that leads to higher insurance premiums.
There have been announcements that this issue is resolved. Individuals can now retain their dependent status for up to two consecutive years in cases of temporary income increases. Nevertheless, this falls far short of providing a fundamental solution. Surprisingly, this issue persists despite substantial changes in family dynamics and society from the era of the Isono family in Sazae-san to the SPY×FAMILY era in Reiwa.
Creating the Women's Vision Network 'Bijonet'
I have collaborated with leaders from across the nation to establish the "Vision Network by Female Governors and Mayors." Also known as Bijonet, we are fortunate to have the participation of over 50 female governors and mayors. This year, we gathered in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, in June. This was in conjunction with the G7 ministerial meeting on gender equality and women's empowerment. We also met on October 7 to exchange ideas about initiatives that promote women's empowerment.
Currently, we are offering local products from municipalities and the home countries of female ambassadors for sale online. We are also excited about the market we are hosting at Tokyo Station, from October 7-11.
As the economy and society continue to evolve, people's lifestyles adapt to the times. Today's world of diversity demands that we collectively pursue the vision of genuine women's empowerment that our society demands.
In a society with a declining population, organizations that can attract diverse talents, both men and women, will emerge as winners. Japan, facing demographic challenges, has already transitioned from the "population bonus" era to the "population onus" era. It is crucial to create an environment where individuals who are caring for children or the elderly at home can still be valuable contributors in the workplace.
The Women's 'Art of War'
In Sun Tzu's Art of War, there is a saying: "[T]hough we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays." While winning in battles is crucial, it is equally important not to prolong them. This teaches us the significance of steadily advancing not only toward long-term goals but also breaking down into smaller parts and moving steadily forward.
The challenges women face in fully participating in society are multifaceted. In Tokyo, we are committed to reshaping the perception of childcare leave. We are moving it from being seen as merely a "time off" from work to being recognized as a "vital responsibility that shapes the future."
We recently held a public contest to redefine this leave. As a result, we now use the term iku-gyo, or "nurturing work." Our aim is to create an environment where individuals can work and nurture their children without undue concern.
Furthermore, in recent years, there has been a growing number of companies working to establish in-house policies related to oocyte cryopreservation, commonly known as egg freezing. This initiative is aimed at supporting women who struggle to balance their life goals and career development.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has initiated subsidy programs to assist these companies. It is one of the options available to individuals facing various challenges while desiring to have children. In response, we are launching subsidies to cover the associated costs and research related to egg freezing.
We must strive to achieve numerous small milestones in our efforts to expand the choices available to women. This is what will allow women to live life on their own terms.
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- Yoko Kamikawa Brings a Fresh Perspective to International Relations as Foreign Minister
- 'Last Chance to Tackle Declining Births' Says PM Kishida, Unveiling New Children-First Policy
- For the 'Future of Children': PM Kishida Outlines New National Initiative on Families
(Read the column in Japanese.)
Author: Yuriko Koike
Yuriko Koike is the Governor of Tokyo, Japan's capital city, often ranked the largest in the world with more than 14 million residents in the city's metropolitan jurisdiction as of October 2020.