Japanese PM Shinzo Abe Banking On Female Empowerment For Economic Growth

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We love when a country’s leader makes the women of his or her nation a top priority. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is one of those leaders who deserves special recognition simply for this area alone.

While we aren’t typically a political site, we are always keen on reporting stories where women’s issues are placed at the forefront of a nation’s politics, as there are still many countries in the world where women are treated as second class citizens by law. Not so in Japan. PM ‘Abe’ as he is referred to in many articles just hosted a 3 day women’s empowerment conference called the The World Assembly for Women in Tokyo where he spoke about the benefits of supporting women.

He declared that his government is willing to subsidize any company that is willing to promote women and offer enhanced child-rearing support in a bid to energize the nation’s society and economy. Roughly 100 female business and political leaders attended the event including Christine Lagarde who is the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund in history, Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Shinzo Abe has his sights set on raising the proportion of women in leadership positions in Japan to at least 30 percent by 2020, the same year the country plays host to the summer Olympic Games. His government is pushing companies to hire and promote more women in a bid to swing the scales of the nation’s workforce gender imbalance the other way, as it is the pillar of their economic growth.

“The idea that men are at the center has somehow become entrenched in our country,” Abe told a group of women invited to his official residence last month. “We need to bring about a major change in society to break through that.”

In line with his mission, the Prime Minister recently appointed 5 women to cabinet posts but sadly, Japan’s female presence in government is less than that of Saudi Arabia, a nation where women aren’t yet allowed to drive or vote. Japan ranks 134th out of 188 countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranking of female parliamentary representation, compared with Saudi Arabia at 76.

“We will aim to clear all barriers preventing women’s empowerment,” Abe said, adding his government will compile in October a new package of measures for creating a society where “all women can shine.”

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Japan is facing a shrinking and aging population, which is why he wants to rectify this by tapping into the female population. A lack of childcare is one of the main barriers to women returning to the labor force, so he has already pledged to eliminate waiting lists for childcare by increasing the number of places by 400,000 between 2012 and 2017.

That is unfortunately one of the main barriers preventing women to enter the workplace, not having enough family or maternity support. If his new plan works out, this might be a tactic other countries like the US could follow. That way nations can foster an environment of prosperity, not fear, when it comes to life choices vs career choices.

Akie Abe, the Japanese prime minister’s wife, said her husband helps do household chores such as washing dishes sometimes as she is busy with her own work on issues including food safety and world peace, and expressed support for her husband’s policy on women. Now that’s a power couple we can use as role models!

Christine Lagarde said utilizing female power for economic expansion is not just a Japanese issue, but a global one. She said excluding women just doesn’t make economic sense, especially when women account for 70 percent of global consumption and companies that are open to women earn more.

Seeing how other countries around the world tackle the issue of female empowerment and how women can play key roles in boosting their economy is something we all need to be aware of. In this day and age where it is not a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of economic growth, governments and leaders have to recognize the potential in supporting women, rather than forcing them to adhere to traditional male methods to make something work.

Progression is all about having an open mind, and recognizing how the male and female differences can be complimentary and powerful alongside each other is the sign of a great leader. All eyes on you Shinzo Abe!

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