Written by: Sarah Figenschou
Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images (source)
Modern day Japan is considered one of the leading nations when it comes to technology and diligence. Known for its pacifistic attitude, anime and peaceful culture the country has successfully built up its new identity over the years following the second world war. The attempt at using its own culture as a weapon in the international society has been perfectly executed as tourism is ever-peaking, but what lies beyond this meticulously painted picture? What do we find when we take a closer look at the culture? One of the most prominent aspects that seem to have little congruence with the developed and modern Japan presented to us in the media is women’s role in the society. Although stagnation is a term often used when discussing the Japanese economy, I believe it is also applicable when discussing the issues that the country is facing culturally, most prominent when looking at the unuttered issue of gender inequality. Another issue that has received more attention from the world due to the burst of the economic bubble in the late 1980’s is the stagnating state of the Japanese economy. Another issue that has received more attention from the world due to the burst of the economical bubble in the late 1980’s is the stagnating state of the Japanese economy. In the aftermath of the bubble burst the country has struggled to get back on its feet economically, facing a reality of a depressed population reluctant to consume, an aging population and a gradual decrease in births makes this no easy situation to recover from. For Japan to reconsider the asset women can be to the society is long overdue, not only as stay at home moms but as business women, innovators and leaders. New numbers show that the profits and economical boost Japan could experience would be of considerable amounts if only they were willing to set aside their medieval mindset, step into the 21stcentury and utilize the remaining 50% of its population.
The bubble economy
One could argue that when discussing the contemporary Japanese economy, it’s close to impossible not mentioning the bubble burst in 1985. The reason for this is that the collapse of the asset price bubble in japan has had a tremendous impact on the economy of which we still se aftereffects from to this day. The consequence most relevant would probably be the following years of depression and pessimism among the people, causing people to consume less and the birth rate to decline drastically. With people being hesitant to consume and invest this made it even harder for the country to get out of its stagnating state, and the struggle to encourage people to invest their spending’s and consume more is something Japan is facing to this day. The decline in births combined with the baby boom following the second world war has resulted in a rapidly aging society. Some of the main economic issues of an aging society is the labour shortage that follows and the growing population of old people that are no longer able to work and thus are dependent on either social services, or if this is not available; own savings. As Japan is now facing this new reality they need to look for new ways to make up for the decline in workforce.
One of the solutions Japan has turned to is the focus on new technology through robotics and automation. As Min Lan Tan argues in her articleJapans’ decrease in labour force is forcing the country to turn to new strategies, creating a healthy development characterized by innovation. She argues that “… as Japanese companies face a looming demographic crisis, their focus will need to shift away from competing on price to enhancing productivity, improving profit margins and creating new product categories.”. As Japan has changed so has the international market, and Japan is now facing new competitors like China and Silicon Valley. New times calls for new measures, and thus she believes Japans way back into the competition will be through an enhancement of productivity. However, new advanced technology and robotics is a costly and time-consuming project, and many has started questioning why not begin with utilizing an already existing and accessible workforce that is the Japanese women. As japan has driven a strict immigration policy over the years it seems unlikely that they will follow the strategy of several European countries importing workforce from abroad. Since this option is out of the picture there has now been a newfound focus on initiating the remaining 50% of the population, educated and willing Japanese women that are more than qualified, as the LDP has too realized they can no longer be overlooked. In an attempt at making the transition easier for the women the LDP has now launched new policies focused on facilitating social care and other measures aimed at making the role as a mother and a worker achievable. The policies are mainly focused on the balance between motherhood and work because new numbers show that 70% of women in work quit after having their first baby. This can be explained with the combination of lack of social services like daycare from the government and the fact that only 2.6% of Japanese men make use of their paternity leave and spends an approximate of one hour per day on household chores, a shockingly low number compared to the three hours that are measured in Sweden, Germany and the US. This leaves the women alone with the majority of the childcare and house related chores, making little room for time spent at work.
The inequality in Japan today
Even though there has recently been an increased focus on improving the situation for women in work Japan still has a long way to go. In a report from the World Economic Forumwe see that Japan ranked at a shocking 111thplace out of 144 countries when it comes to gender equality, making them the worst country in the Asia-Pacific region. These numbers may seem surprising due to Japans reputation of being a developed country sharing the modern ideas and attitudes that we see in the rest of the west, whereas gender equality is highly prioritized. However, the numbers speak of another truth and it seems fair to say that it is about time Japan look into this issue and changes its attitude towards women. The inequality is particularly prominent when discussing salary, as numbers show that women in Japan earn 30% less on average than men and make up as little as 4.9% in management and executive positions. Taken these numbers into account there is no wonder why Japanese women find a career less appealing than the men. In an attempt at reducing the gap, prime minister Abe has now demanded for corporations to hire at least one female executive per company, however there has been uncertainty regarding the seriousness of consequences if a company were to not meet these demands, if there will be any consequences at all. He has also presented a plan aimed at reducing working hours for women by legislating a limit on overtime and include some supportive measures that are intended to make it easier for them to step into the working life.
The difference women can make
To include more women in the workforce would result in development not only in regard to gender equality but also to the Japanese Economy. As a recent estimate from UBS shows, Japan could experience as much as an 11% expansion of the country’s working age population if they managed to eliminate the current 17-point gap and achieve equal labour between men and women. This again would result in an approximately 15% growth to Japans GDP. Another important aspect to take into consideration is that more women in work means more wealth to the Japanese households. This again would lead to higher consumption, something the Japanese economy desperately needs to get its economy up and running again. When looking into the situation in Sweden, Denmark and the US we also see a connection between high female employment and high birth rates. The assumption that women need time off from work to function as a mother is challenged by a new theory that women in work with a steady income and education are more functioning in the society and happy. This backed up with proper social care from the government could result in more children being born. The idea often presented in japan that young women are selfish for not having children can also be turned around saying young women have not been handed adequate circumstances of which they would want to bring their children into. When comparing the low birth rate in countries with low female employment rates like Italy, South Korea and Japan with the situation in Sweden, Denmark and the US we see that an increase in female employment and better social care from the government would most likely result in a higher birth rate in Japan, solving the long-lasting issue of an ever-growing aging society.
Taken the arguments presented into account it is fair to claim that a serious change needs to be made in Japan regarding female empowerment and creating gender equality. Doing so would help not only the Japanese women but the entire society, as a society can not reach its full potential as long as it keeps neglecting half of its population. Advances has been made from the women’s side, speaking up about discrimination and educating themselves. As a matter of fact, reports show us that young women in Japan today are more likely to have a university degree than young men. As of today, as much as 59% of women in japan has a higher education, compared to the lesser 52% of men. Even so, we still see a 15% gender pay gap among young people, and a clear division when it comes to what occupations these ladies get into. Even though Abe has promised a long overdue change, Japanese women still experience the inequality on a daily basis, most recently demonstrated through the highly ranked Tokyo University’s tampering with female applicants’ entrance examto ensure under 30% of successful applicants would be women. As Reika Omura commented when asked about the subject: “Basically, the problem for women in Japan is that all the men, and too many of the women, think that women are flowers [decorative] when really we are trees [with which things can be built].”. The need for change in Japan is real, the Japanese women is educated, capable and qualified, now it’s up to the men to meet the requirements and qualify themselves to be enlightened human beings functioning in the modern world, accepting and embracing the different strengths and resources that lies in the different genders.
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