Gender Inequality

How Japan can embrace gender equality and nurture a more inclusive society

Gender equality in Japan has a long way to go.

Gender equality in Japan has a long way to go. Image: Freepik.com

Makiko Eda
Consultant, World Economic Forum Tokyo
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Gender Inequality

  • Japan is the lowest-ranking of the G7 countries for gender equality, according to the Gender Gap Index.
  • Progress is being made in some policy areas and society is beginning to shed some of its outdated views on gender roles.
  • Public-private initiatives are working to accelerate gender equality but more work is needed.

Diversity is not only about being inclusive in terms of gender equality. But the inability of companies and organizations to incorporate the largest minority group, women, indicates that they are not being inclusive to other minority groups.

The latest Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum placed Japan at the bottom of the G7 countries again. This is a clear sign that not only women but other minority groups are left behind.

Diversity is a source of innovation; an essential element for a nation’s growth, especially for Japan, which suffered from lack of economic growth for some time. Recently, I’ve noticed an awareness and open discussion in Japan around the issue of gender equality. Public opinion seems to be encouraging gender equality, as ideas that are not bound by gender are becoming more prevalent. There is a movement to review actions and behaviours, which, just a few years back, would have been laughed off and overlooked. The public is no longer laughing.

Have you read?

Ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the former creative director in charge of the opening and closing ceremony was forced to leave the position for communicating derogatory remarks in a group online chat about a female celebrity whom he suggested should appear as an “Olympig”. Today, women are gradually assuming leadership roles in political and economic spheres. Last spring, the Japan Business Federation (or Keidanren), appointed Tomoko Namba, founder and chairwoman of online service provider DeNA Co., as the first female vice-chair in its 75-year history.

Public policy and encouraging gender equality

In policy areas it appears that progress is being made, such as encouraging men to take parental leave. In June 2022, under the Kishida administration, the "Basic Policies for Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform 2022" (Honebuto-no-Hoshin), and "Grand Design for New Capitalism and Action Plan", suggests that investing in people is a major focus.

Along with the promotion of higher wages and skill development, the "Respect for Diversity and Flexibility of Choice" policy calls for the creation of an environment in which people can work regardless of their gender and ensure flexibility. Most noteworthy is that the disclosure of wage disparities between men and women should be mandatory for companies. The report also mentions that the social security and taxation systems, which are constraints on more women’s employment, should be reviewed.

If this trend continues, we can expect that the environment for gender equality in terms of policies and systems, especially from the viewpoint of promoting women’s employment, will improve. Compared to even a short while ago, we can see that some progress has been made in spreading awareness of issues related to gender equality in Japan; clarifying where the problems lie and in making allowances and measures in basic policies.

It is also true that in Japan, while benefits are being provided in terms of the system, there is a tendency for men to be hesitant to take parental leave due to company culture. Also the division of household chores at home are biased toward women, which ultimately hinders the advancement of women into the workforce.

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Whether the movement toward gender equality will accelerate or whether “gender equality” will become a passing buzzword without much improvement depends not only on how the government will lead the way in policy, but also how the private sector will respond and how individual attitudes and behaviours change.

Around the same time as the “Grand Design for a New Capitalism” was issued, the “Women’s Version of the Framework Policy 2022” was also released, focusing on priority issues from the perspective of women’s advancement and gender equality. It points out that, “structural problems such as various systems that were formed during the Showa period (1926-1989), labor practices including wage disparities between men and women, and the stereotypical gender role consciousness.” The report also touches upon women's economic independence and men's active roles in the home and community.

Building a more inclusive society

Gender equality is not something that can be solved by any one special remedy. It cannot be achieved without unraveling and solving structural problems one at a time, individual awareness included.

The ability to incorporate and foster diversity will further ensure that the elements of diversity (i.e. nationality, age, race) are not limited to gender, and will create momentum for society as a whole, open discussions, and change people’s awareness and behaviour.

While governments, private companies, and civil society need to work together to achieve gender equality, it is encouraging to see younger generations, in particular, taking an interest in social issues and becoming active as social entrepreneurs.

The World Economic Forum has also launched the "Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator" initiative in cooperation with the Japanese government (Gender Equality Bureau, Cabinet Office) and the private sector to accelerate gender equality, especially in the economic field. At a time when the nature of capitalism is being revisited, it is my hope that we can play a role in positive change as an example of how the public and private sectors can work together to address social issues.

The policy frameworks to advance gender equality are being aligned. Public-private cooperation is vital in leveraging these frameworks to make changes – not only to narrow the gender gap, but also to build a more inclusive society. These are key to Japan’s innovation and growth, especially in a high-speed world with many challenges ahead.

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