Japan needs women power to galvanize economy

TOKYO —

Japan must put more women in key posts to boost its economy and to prove its ruling party has changed its hidebound ways, the party’s top spokeswoman said on Tuesday, just days after two female party executives clashed over quotas for women managers.

“To mobilize women would create a breakthrough in Japan’s economy. This itself would change the paradigm of Japan’s economy and ought to be ensconced as part of our growth strategy,” said Yuriko Koike, a multilingual former defense minister who was appointed head of the LDP’s public relations headquarters after the party surged back to power last month.

Shinzo Abe, who returned to the premiership in December after the LDP’s stunning election victory, three years after it was ousted, has appointed Koike and two other women to important party posts in what the prime minister called an effort to show that the long-dominant party has changed.

But in a sign the conservative party remains ambivalent about the role of women, the two other female appointees - LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi and party General Council Chairwoman Seiko Noda - quibbled on Sunday over the need to set a legally binding target for boosting women’s share of managerial posts in the public and private sectors to more than 30 percent by 2020.

The LDP’s campaign platform called for a numerical target but did not specify whether it would be compulsory.

Takaichi, a staunch conservative on social issues, raised the concern that a quota would lead to “reverse discrimination”, while Noda backed the measure as necessary to spark change, according to reports of their exchange on a television talk show.

“Ten years ago, I felt the same (as Takaichi) but recently I realized if we don’t do this, nothing will change,” Koike told Reuters in an interview at a bustling LDP headquarters.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged Japan in a report in October to make better use of working women, noting females accounted for 9% of the country’s managers as of 2009, compared with 43% in the United States. Female labor force participation overall also lags other advanced countries.

Among the barriers cited by experts are corporate hiring practices that shunt women to non-career-track jobs, a tax code that favors housewives and the tendency of many women to drop out of the workforce after childbirth, due partly to social pressure but also to a shortage of childcare facilities.

Abe is putting priority on public spending and easy monetary policy in his push to escape deflation and revive the economy, but has promised to tackle structural reforms to generate growth from a fast-ageing, shrinking population as well.

The LDP, however, remains a bastion of male dominance.

Takaichi and Noda are backed up in their posts by veteran male members of parliament and while the party won 294 seats in the Dec 16 election for the 480-member lower house, only 23 of those seats were won by women.

Overall, the number of women elected to the powerful chamber fell to 38 from 54 in a historic 2009 election that propelled, if only briefly, the novice Democratic Party of Japan to power.

Koike, a former television anchor and Japan’s first female defense minister, compared the barrier faced by women in their quest to get to the top with an “iron plate”, not a glass ceiling, when she bid unsuccessfully for the LDP’s top post in 2009.

Now, she says, the LDP needs to keep its campaign promise not only to help the stagnant economy but to demonstrate to wary voters, who will get another chance to cast ballots in an upper house poll in July, that the party has really changed.

“The fact we included this in our platform shows that it is the intention of the LDP,” she said. “If we cannot achieve it, we will face criticism for violating our manifesto.”

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013.

Author Infomation

Linda Sieg
Linda Sieg
  • 1

    JeffLee

    a tax code that favors housewives

    And so it should. Single-income households and housewives tend to be lower income earners, and thus they have tighter household budgets to contend with. They need tax breaks a lot more than the LDP executives do.

  • 2

    cleo

    Single-income households and housewives tend to be lower income earners, and thus they have tighter household budgets to contend with.

    Then the housewives should get a job. If a couple chooses to be low income because one able-bodied member prefers not to work, then that is their choice and the taxpayer should not be expected to subsidise them - especially when the taxpayer includes 2-income families where both adults work because they can't afford not to.

    If a family has small children, then some kind of child allowance, etc., to cover child care either by the parent or hoikuen should be in place (personally I'm in favour of mothers staying home with children for the first 1-3 years at least, and it's good if there's a parent at home through elementary school if possible); but people who can afford not to work should not be subsidised for ever by those who can't.

  • -2

    tmarie

    No Jeff, it should not be. That stupid rule is why Japanese women are not paid anywhere near their worth. I am sick and tired of being my own pension and health care while little Ms cake shop with no kids benefits from it. Help these families when they have small children at home and that's it. If these women want a pension in the future either their husbands can pay for it or they can. I shouldn't have to.

    I keep reading these articles written by foreigners. And this is the issue. WE know this. "They" however, don't want to work FT, they don't want to have careers... Can you blame them considering how males are treated here at work? the thing is, more women working FT means better working conditions for men. Getting that through to "them" though...

  • 4

    marcelito

    This is Japan and this very issue about getting more women into workforce in general and higher posts in particular has been discussed for years and years and years without any meaningful change whatsoever. As long as J-public keeps electing the same dinosaurs stuck in the last century way of thinking as the leaders of this country , nothing will change. I think the recent election demonstrated this well enough.

  • 1

    tmarie

    Marcelito, indeed the government needs to be blamed but so do the women. The women here have got to stop playing victim and stand up and demand fair pay. It isn't just the government clinging to thinking from the last century.

  • -1

    AiserX

    How come its always a foreigner writing a "Japan needs x or do y" articles?

    Its a good thing this is on the Opinion section.

    Japan must put more women in key posts to boost its economy and to prove its ruling party has changed its hidebound ways, the party’s top spokeswoman said on Tuesday, just days after two female party executives clashed over quotas for women managers.

    Here's the problem of the mindset. Statism. The false ideal that JUST having the RIGHT elected politician (in this case it MUST be a female) will be a "mile-stone" to solving the problem. The underlying assumption grandiose delusion is that you as an individual should have a female executioner as opposed to a male one when the end result is the same.

    “To mobilize women would create a breakthrough in Japan’s economy. This itself would change the paradigm of Japan’s economy and ought to be ensconced as part of our growth strategy,” says Yuriko Koike

    In other words Yuriko-Chan by ensconced you mean permanently appointed in key positions? My I hope you learned better at the American University in Cairo. May I ask, will these appointees give special favors towards specific demographics in the country at the expense of all else?

    General Council Chairwoman Seiko Noda - quibbled on Sunday over the need to set a legally binding target for boosting women’s share of managerial posts in the public and private sectors to more than 30 percent by 2020.

    HA! So if women don't control 30% of the public-private sector then the violent force of Govt must step in and "correct" this? That females because of gender MUST control 30% of both sectors of society? why not 31%? or 10%? or how about 100%? What if women on the individual basis are comfortable in themselves being stay at home wives or working as say office desk? what right does Govt and your entourage troupe have to change this?

    Ten years ago, I felt the same (as Takaichi) but recently I realized if we don’t do this, nothing will change,

    The status of women in society changed from even 100 years ago, not by some Govt mandate. But because simply free-markets work.

    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged Japan in a report in October to make better use of working women, noting females accounted for 9% of the country’s managers as of 2009, compared with 43% in the United States.

    Is the IMF not an abysmal failure in everything it does? With 43% managers within the U.S and I am sure they want the number to be higher. The IMF should not urged anyone to do anything.

    The state cannot mandate control of any sector to any specific group of people based on anatomy or any such preference. To do so will always have adverse unintended consequences that more often then not exacerbate already existing problems. Along with often creating new ones. The failures of such Govtt interventionism will always prompt more interventions to "patch up" previous caused problems thus repeating and endless cycle of failures.

  • -2

    Betraythetrust!

    More people in the workforce in a country like Japan will cause lower salaries as has happened in the west. It will create higher GDP which means it is good for big business. Of course there should be equality in the workplace, complete equality, woman that do not take time off for child rearing should be paid the same as men that put in the same hours.

    Boosting women in high ranking jobs is very good and should be encouraged, trying to force people into a low paying workforce in an economy in the doldrums is madness.

  • 3

    DigitalFunk

    It's about damn time for more diversity in the J-Gov. If Japan continues to shut out half of its population and continues this gender discrimination, they're going to miss out on half the potential and half the strength to revitalize this country. It's not about giving special treatment to women, it's about leveling the playfield which has been in favor of the menfolk. Women are enjoying the same education as men so why are they not awarded the same opportunities? There should be more incentive to encourage women to work or enter politics and getting rid of that patronizing 1.3 million yen ceiling is one solution, as well as special temporary measures such as quotas. Yes, Japanese women need to empower themselves before we can see a real change, but it would help if they were given equal rights to begin with, not just seen as "baby-making machines".

  • -1

    sakurala

    I've seen a few articles on here recently with a similar message...if only there were more women in the workforce, Japan would be a richer/better/more advanced country. However, I rarely see the full logic behind it.

    Does the percentage of women in the workforce actually have that much of an effect of the economy? I am all for having women in the workforce, but I am just not seeing how it directly connects to the benifits being promoted (other than Japan can say they have x amount of women working and x amount are managers...) I don't think anyone should be stopped from experiencing their full potential, but I don't know how many women in Japan have what it takes to keep up with their male counterparts. I am sure quite a few of them do, but some people put limits on their own potential or make a choice to do something else (becoming a mother).

  • 2

    tmarie

    Sakulala, the more money a woman makes, the more money they spend on their kids and their kid's education. That means better educated kids and more spending as a whole which creates more opportunities for jobs, business and society.

    And sorry? Keep up with the men? Is that a joke? What exactly do these men do that women can't do? The working women I know work circles around their husbands and male counterparts. Between working and looking after the hose, what more do you expect them to do?

  • 3

    Pramod Sur

    Increase in demand and supply is necessary for the growth of a nation. the demand in an economy can be incresaed if the people spend more and the supply can be increased if an economy produce more. Women in japan has the ability to increase the production and consuption. We have to see that more than 51% of japans population is women. And it is the only OECD countries where women labor participation is very less (except S Korea where it is least). So if women are encouraged to work they can prod..uce more and earn more simultaneously. And thereby consume more (if you have more money in hand you spend spend more. Right!). So actually women can create growth in japanese economy.

  • 3

    DigitalFunk

    Men can't even keep up with their male colleagues! People in other countries manage to be efficient from 9 to 5, go home and enjoy their family time or other private time.

    More women on the board means more profit for the company (google the credit suisse report). It's not just about gender diversity. It's about retaining talent, bringing innovative ideas to the table. Why can't women be valued for that???

    Japan is aging fast. To keep things affordable, Japan needs more people in the work force (not saying women are the ONLY solution, but it's a good start), and to encourage more women to start or keep working, you need to have good quality day care or have good parental leave to combat the low fertility rate.

    It's absolutely fine if women choose to be a stay-at-home-mom, but it should also be fine to be a working mother, especially knowing that nothing is certain in life.

  • 5

    cleo

    the more money a woman makes, the more money they spend on their kids and their kid's education. That means better educated kids

    While throwing money at childminders/educators/juku might help the economy in that more money is circulating and may result in more expensively educated kids, it doesn't necessarily follow that they are better educated.

  • 0

    tmarie

    Fair point Cleo - very true.

    I would hope more money means better educated but yes, not always the case, is it?

  • 4

    DigitalFunk

    LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi and party General Council Chairwoman Seiko Noda - quibbled on Sunday

    Why is it that when it's women talking, it becomes "quibbling", Linda?

  • -1

    Helen_Monk

    You're totally right Cleo. Too many people out there think that answer to practically every problem is just to throw money at it and hope for the best. This no truer than when it comes to education and raising children. So many people who have never had children and whose knowledge of what it takes to raise a child is second hand at best think it's all so simple; just spend more money and everything will be OK. Sadly, this probably is a reflection on how they were raised.

    It's also disheartening that many women who have never had children go on and on giving advice about pretty much something they know nothing about. They have no shame. They rant and rave about having to pay for this and pay for that simply because they are unsatisfied with the lives they have chosen to leave. Choices for some women are not so clear cut. Yet, these people just go on and on about stay at home moms or housewives being nothing but a drain on society. Once again, many of these types have never had kids and therefore don't understand the raising a child doesn't end when they are old enough for you to go back to work. It's pretty much a life long process. Maybe we're all lucky they haven't had kids because mostly they would become the type of parent whose kids end up in trouble later in life.

  • 0

    tmarie

    Helen, plenty of women out there work as care givers, teachers, foster parents... who haven't given birth, can't give birth or don't want to. The old "you don't have kids so you opinion is invalid" is old, dated and very untrue. You don't have to be an artist to appreciate or criticize art, the same can be said for teachers, movie directors, designers and... parents. If anyone "has no shame" wouldn't it be the posters who consistently moan about this on such types of threads rather than actually contribute anything.?

  • -1

    DP812

    @cleo, I suggest you do some research on the term "devil-wives." It's not always a matter of mothers choosing not to work, but sometimes a matter of society stigmatizing working mothers. Add in problems with adequate childcare plus the ridiculous demands Japan places on its workforce and there are many families who probably find it more feasible to have a parent stay home with the children.

  • 3

    cleo

    the term "devil-wives."

    Tried googling it, it comes up in three references, all to the same article, plus one tweet also about the same article. One article does not a social phenomenon make.

    Googling the Japanese 鬼嫁turns up blogs written by ladies chortling about what a good time they're having doing what they like (not working) and more blogs written by/for men about wives who nag/control/manipulate - again, no mention of working wives being bad or stigmatised.

    there are many families who probably find it more feasible to have a parent stay home with the children

    Of course there are, and not only because of 'ridiculous demands' placed on the workforce. If you read my 8:57 post again, you will see that I am not talking about mothers (who I think have every right to stay home with their kids, and should be given help to do so) but the sengyo shufu with no kids who has no reason to stay home yet chooses not to work; if she can afford to stay home, she can afford to pay her own pension premiums and health insurance, and instead of enjoying tax breaks for his 'dependent' wife, hubby can afford to pay her share of local taxes, rather than sponging on those who cannot afford to stay home.

  • 1

    lwsydney

    Economy AND Society need this.

  • 0

    tmarie

    Well said Cleo!!

  • 0

    DP812

    My apologies, cleo. I thought you were referring to stay-at-home moms.

  • 0

    JaneM

    This tax code was introduced when the population of Japan was growing rapidly and it was designed to support families where one member (usually the wife) would stay at home to take care of children or aged parents. However, the demographic structure has changed and the society cannot afford to have full-bodied women to stay home for no obvious reasons. Yet, there are many things which need to change before Japanese women (and the foreign women who are willing to work in Japan) can become a significant part of the workforce here – social expectations, corporal attitude, facilities and understanding which support working mothers or housewives taking care of aging parents are the most important though only some of the challenges to be dealt with. Monthly child allowance should be provided to families with young children, too.

    I personally cannot see why couples who have no choice but to work for double income even when they have young children should support (though indirectly) the lower tax rates for single-income families that can afford their single income life even when the wife of that family has no reason to stay home.

    Along a different line of thought, in order to promote spending, it is necessary to make sure that more people/families have enough disposable income. Lower tax rates for single income families do not contribute much to the increase of income available for immediate use while double income might well do so.

  • 2

    JaneM

    Heln_Monk,

    I should disagree with your post as the discussion here is about the women who do not have aging parents or young children to take care of but still choose to stay at home and enjoy their life. The husbands of such women get tax breaks because their wives have chosen to enjoy their lives. At the same time families with young children choose the double income option, hard as it is in present-day Japan, and have to support the all-for-joy life of those who have no reason to stay home but still do.

  • 0

    tmarie

    Well said Jane!

  • 0

    Tessa

    Once again, many of these types have never had kids and therefore don't understand the raising a child doesn't end when they are old enough for you to go back to work. It's pretty much a life long process.

    Frankly, if I had kids who needed me for the rest of their lives, I'd regard myself as a complete failure as a parent.

  • 0

    tmarie

    Well said Tessa!

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