The three-day international women empowerment forum, Global Summit of Women, which this year attracted a record attendance of 1,300 women from across the globe to Tokyo, ended Saturday, highlighting Japan’s efforts to close its gender gap in its economic sector and improve women’s roles in leadership positions, a target Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to successfully implement by 2020.
The event brought ministers, CEOs, businesswomen and men from over 60 countries in its largest gathering to date in 27 years, and highlighted issues Japan and other countries need to tackle in order to boost women’s presence in leadership positions and achieve women empowerment that both highlights fundamental rights and promises a boost in the economy.
Japan, which was most recently ranked 111th in the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap index in what Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike referred to as “a shameful result” at a speech during the event, incorporated various issues into the three-day discussion — from ways to increase business partnerships in Japan, to governmental policies that are currently being addressed, to redefining work-life balance. There were 24 panel and discussion sessions, the aim of which was to provide women with hands-on tips on what can be done, based on different experiences across the world.
To much applause from the audience, Prime Minister Abe was awarded the Summit’s Global Women's Leadership Award on Thursday, the first day of the event, for his policy to raise women in leadership positions to up to 30% by 2020 — known as “Womenomics.” He accepted the award, saying that he believes that “there will never be true economic growth if women are not involved.” Abe’s speech concluded in a cheering audience and a standing ovation, with women from all over the world rushing to take photos with him.
“I respect Prime Minister Abe,” a participant from the United Arab Emirates told Japan Today during the event.
But Abe’s Womenomics is still a work in progress — and it needs a strong boost.
“One of the main reasons why I took the position as a chair of the Japan host committee is to make sure that this summit serves as a catalyst for the prime minister’s achievement of the policy,” Noriko Nakamura, founder and CEO of Poppins Inc, one of Japan’s major babysitting companies and a chair of the Japan hosting committee, said during a press briefing in the beginning of the event, which started on May 11.
According to a recent survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun, as of April 2017, the number of women in managerial positions in the leading 116 Japanese firms that answered the survey, stood at 8.3%, a slow rise from the 7.5% in 2016 in the same survey. Another survey conducted by Teikoku Databank in August 2016 on 10,285 nationwide companies in July 2016, showed that women in managerial positions stood at an average of 6.6%, a slight increase of only 0.2% from the previous year. The results in both surveys are still a far cry from the 30% that Abe has vowed to enforce by 2020.
Abe’s second cabinet is also an illustration of the drastic gender gap — there are only three women ministers out of 20 in the current Abe administration and one state minister out of 25. Japan ranks 165th out of 190 countries on the World Classification of Women in Parliaments index as of March 2017.
Among the three award recipients at the Global Summit of Women in Tokyo was Koike, who won last year’s gubernatorial elections to become Tokyo’s first women governor. She was not supported by any of the leading parties nor influential politicians, including the prime minister himself.
In the nearly one year since her election, Koike has worked hard to address some of the leading women’s issues that hinder their active presence in Japan’s workforce, focusing predominantly on tackling Japan’s daycare shortage problem. Koike has aggressively focused on the increase of daycare facilities, daycare staff’s salaries, and on significantly reducing the number of taiki jido — children on the waiting list for daycare. She has implemented a 138.1 billion yen budget — the largest ever — for fiscal 2017 to tackle day care issues and has set up a goal for zero taiki jido by the end of fiscal 2019.
“Women's power is not well utilized in Japan,” Koike said during the summit, adding that she plans to dramatically increase the number of women working at the Tokyo government in the Tokyo assembly election in July. At present, women hold only 25 of the 127 seats in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.
One of the key issues that Abe’s Womenomics is still failing to address is that increasing women’s participation in all public and private sectors should not only be from an economic perspective. His speech during the summit did not address women’s fundamental rights; it only focused on women’s participation as a vital force for boosting the economy amid Japan’s drastically declining population.
Nevertheless, the opening of the summit here in Tokyo, is a major step forward as it puts Abe and his government in the spotlight — and the world is watching Japan’s future moves. His award comes with great responsibility, and it should serve as a reminder that lots needs to be still done for the women in Japan.
"One of the major accomplishments we had during this summit is that we were able to invite everyone to the State Guest House (Geihinkan) for the welcome dinner,” Nakamura said. “Non-state organized events can hardly ever be run there — but we succeeded,” she said, admitting that it took nearly nine months of negotiations with the government. The fact that the government participated in the setting up of the event invites hope for an improvement in Japan’s mentality toward targeting it’s gender gap.
In the end, however, it goes down to education. As Mercedes Erra, the founder and executive president of Havas Worldwide, France’s multinational advertising and public relations company, who participated at the summit as a speaker, said in her message to all world leaders — including Japan: ”We need to be careful how we educate women. We have raised them thinking they only have half of the rights of the boys. We need to eradicate the stereotypes we have created through publicity, through media, through advertising.” In this perspective, Japan still has a long road to walk ahead.© Japan Today