How Did Women’s Empowerment Unfold in Japan in 2023?
A Whiplash Summary Of Women’s Successes And Challenges This Year
From public failures to political strides, a wrap-up of the female experience in Japan, 2023.
2023 saw a paradox of strides in politics despite the country’s sagging Gender Equality metrics and several public gaffs. Notably, Nikko’s G-7 conference, to empower women into leadership roles, became a shining example of Japan’s continuing missteps. Women’s empowerment in Japan still has a long way to go.
Women’s Empowerment in Japan: Victories
Women Achieved a One-Fifth Ratio of Political Candidacy in Spring Elections
Making up over 20% of candidates, women reached the highest-ever percentage of political candidacy in this year’s race. One in five managed to secure her election.
Young women in politics are being supported by crowdfunding and social media by a rising group called The Fiftys Project.
Currently, six of Tokyo’s wards are headed by females. Women in their 20s and 30s are taking up a larger share of political bodies than ever. Among these is the nation’s newly-elected youngest female mayor, Shoko Kawata, a 33-year-old former social worker in Kyoto. Young women in politics are being supported by crowdfunding and social media. A rising group called The Fiftys Project, secured 24 out of 29 seats for their sponsored candidates.
Five women are now in the cabinet after Kishida’s most recent shuffle, including a female in the foreign minister’s seat. Ayuko Kato is tasked with overseeing policies to combat the low birthrate and provide support to families—two of the administration’s key challenges. Hanako Jimi’s role support regional revitalization projects.
Strides in the Battle against Japan’s Low Birthrate: Starting with Parents
Kishida efforts to alleviate the growing pressure of a continually declining birthrate. The government handout system for expectant mothers is planned to be made permanent in 2025. The system offers coupons for services like babysitters. As well as cash supplements to help bring down hospital fees and baby-care supplies after delivery. In total, the benefits amount to approximately ¥100,000.
A proposed plan would offer 100% of wages to couples who take two weeks or more of parental leave. It would increase leave compensation from an effective 80% to 100% of potential earnings.
Young Women on the World Stage
Nadeshiko Japan made waves with international Women’s Soccer stardom. Shining praise from foreign news at the Women’s World Cup afforded Nadeshiko a quick rise to stardom at the New Zealand spectacle.
Cocona Hiraki, age 15, secured the top prize at the X Games Japan Women’s Skateboard Park. She is Japan’s youngest summer olympian ever during her participation in the 2020 Olympics. Four out of six medals went to Japanese women skaters during the Olympics.
Women’s Empowerment in Japan: Continuing Challenges
Voices Go Unheard, even as Women Clinch Political Wins
Satoko Kishimoto is the mayor of Suginami, elected by a mere 200-vote margin and often criticized for her apparent lack of qualifications. Kishimoto believes that her many years spent in Europe offer her a perspective with unique solutions, but constituents disagree. Kishimoto reports that meetings are often squandered on personal attacks and criticisms due to her gender.
During this year’s elections, a non-profit organization offering support to Japan’s women in politics received various reports of harassment. However, it is suspected that this number is significantly deflated. As public figures, women are encouraged to keep quiet about potentially scandal-causing incidents.
Kishimoto reports that meetings are often squandered on personal attacks and criticisms due to her gender.
In a twist of irony, Minister Masanobu Ogura, a male representative, was the only non-female participant in the G-7 summit in Nikko. This faux pas caught the public eye, receiving coverage and astonishment in both official publications and online forums.
Abysmal Equality Rankings
Japan’s world gender equality ranking tanked from 116 to an embarrassing 125 out of 146 nations, with an especially notable 138 out of 148 ranking for women in positions of power, political and economic. Despite making strides in achieving parity in health and education, pension and pay gaps, on top of a generally discouraging work culture, are at least partly to blame. Some sources hope that gender quotas and proactive recruitment will give organizations no choice but to create more equal spaces for women. However, these quotas lack teeth.
Trouble Among our Most Vulnerable
A recent report in the Japan Times cites an uptick in human rights violations against Japan’s female inmates, many of whom are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Among these are an increasing number of women over 65 who are brought in for petty theft. They turn to small crimes in the absence of adequate support systems, elderly poverty and loneliness.
Mum’s the Word: Unseen Struggles for Japan’s Mothers
Of particular note is the treatment of pregnancy in the prison system, with interviewees reporting being handcuffed during labor and immediate or near immediate separation of inmates from newborns.
Japan’s “mommy track” ensures women are routinely hired for non-career roles with limited hours and lower pay than traditional jobs, under the assumption they will eventually quit to pursue parenthood.
In other mom-related news, obstetrics care has been unfairly denied to several women who underwent in-vitro fertilization. The patients in question are single or sexual-minority women denied due to a lack of applicable legislation and sufficient documentation regarding the in-vitro process.
A ‘23 documentary also shined a light on the plight of single mothers in Japan, who struggle under a tax and working system originally designed to support married women in focusing on child-rearing duties.
Japan’s “mommy track” ensures women are routinely hired for non-career roles with limited hours and lower pay than traditional jobs, under the assumption they will eventually quit to pursue parenthood. Recent trends indicate this may be changing, however, as listed stock companies expand programs to promote internal recruitment of women for managerial and board positions.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Change starts with a social commitment, a willingness to be open-minded, and, above all, to try. As Japan slowly adopts more liberalized mindsets, we can look forward to broadening opportunities for the nation’s women across all spheres, social, political and beyond.
Actionable metrics in place are Kishida’s 30% parity plan and on-paper commitments from secondary and tertiary educational institutions to increase female presence. With only 10% of political roles currently taken up by women and even fewer in positions of corporate leadership, there is still a long way to go.
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