Discover more from KonichiValue
Japan Has the Worst Equality in the Developed World: How to Fix It!
Japan, a nation admired for its technological advancement and cultural depth, finds itself mired in a worrying statistic: It ranks below Saudi Arabia in gender equality. How did such an advanced country get to this point? And more importantly, how can this alarming trend be reversed?
Recent findings by the World Economic Forum have been nothing short of shocking. Japan has the worst representation of women in politics and business of any advanced democracy, ranking a dismal 125th out of 146 countries. If we trace this back to 2006, Japan ranked 79 out of 115 countries, which means the country has regressed in its efforts to bridge the gender gap. Compare this with nations like France and Bangladesh, who have made significant strides, and it's clear Japan is moving in the wrong direction.
Such dismal representation is not just a sociological concern; it's an economic one too. A prime example of just how bad gender equality is in Japan can be seen in case of Fujitsu's Floral Kiss laptop, a product ridiculed for its patronizing design catered to women, encapsulates the issue. Created by male engineers, the laptop featured daily horoscopes, scrap-booking software, and a floral motif, highlighting the ingrained and outdated mindset prevalent within Japan's major corporations. The product was discontinued after a year and Fujitsu can no longer compete on the global market and has resorted to almost exclusively selling laptops in Japan.
A closer look at Japan’s gender gap reveals a multifaceted problem. Despite 77% of Japanese women working, more than half hold non-regular roles, which offer limited benefits, low wages, and lower prestige. Contrastingly, only a third of working men are in such positions. This disparity continues outside the workplace as well, with women often expected to pour drinks for their male counterparts at social gatherings.
To make matters worse, the people that could make a difference for women in Japan, the politicians, are almost exclusively men, especially in the ruling the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Only two out of 40 ministers in the cabinet of the prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and about 10% of members of the elected lower house of the Diet are women (source).
The future for Japan's women paints an even grimmer picture. With births falling below 800,000 and an aging population on the rise, Japan's economy is set to face significant strain. An older, more conservative population will likely stifle a push for progressive policies. And with an aging demographic, there will be a higher dependency on medical and social security systems. With women holding only 18% of Japan's total wealth, their dependency on social security and their male counterparts will likely increase over time.
The reluctance of women to have children almost certainly stems from the strict societal roles imposed upon them. In Japan, women are still expected to bear the full responsibly of being wives, mothers, and caretakers, with little to no agency over their lives. Data shows that married women with young children spend over seven hours daily on unpaid care and housework, four times that of men. As a result, according to data from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Japan has the highest proportion (27%) of middle-aged women without children in the world!
The benefits of fostering a more inclusive environment are clear. Not only for Japan’s women, but also for the overall economy. Companies with greater diversity have shown better long-term performance and bridging the gender gap could add a staggering $550 billion to Japan's GDP, yearly!
But how can this be done?
How Can Japan Fix its Insane Gender Gap?
To reverse its fate, Japan's salvation lies in empowering its female demographic. Beyond just welcoming them, Japan must carve out spaces of equity for women - in wages, work flexibility, and familial support. Each business, from small enterprises to tech giants, must champion the cause of wage equality and diversified hiring. Take heed: the haunting fall of Fujitsu's 'Floral Kiss' laptop division remains a grim reminder of the disasters awaiting homogenous teams.
Key Areas to Address:
Cultural Change: Society-wide campaigns need to be launched to challenge and change deep-seated cultural norms that limit women's roles. This includes promoting shared domestic responsibilities, challenging stereotypes, and celebrating female leaders. In a nation where girl-power (女子力) still refers to a woman’s femininity, fashion sense, and ability to perform traditional female roles, it’s time for seismic shifts.
Legislation with Teeth: Gentle persuasions no longer suffice. Japan must enact robust laws to champion gender equality. Quotas for women in pivotal leadership roles – be it in politics or corporate corridors – should be mandated. And for those who choose to turn a blind eye? Penalties must ensue. While not everyone may embrace such progressive policies, history offers a beacon: For example, Norway’s implementation of women leadership quotas and fines for unequal pay has both increased equality and overall wealth in the country (Tomczak, 2016)
Pillars of Support: Introducing more flexible working hours, improving parental leave policies, and increasing the availability of affordable childcare can help both men and women balance work and family life. In fact, countries that have implemented enforced parental leave for both parents have seen mother’s earnings rise about 6.7% for every month of paternity leave taken by her husband.
The Catalyst of Immigration: By opening its doors wider to foreign talent, Japan introduces a tapestry of global perspectives which inherently challenge and enrich its societal norms. The benefit? A natural push towards gender equality, and we are already seeing this change. With its recent uptick in immigration, Japan is already seeing local businesses influenced by more global views, and gradually adapting more inclusive practices. Notably, areas with higher immigrant concentrations are seeing faster strides in gender-equal norms and pay than Japan’s average, a clear testament to diversity's transformative impact.
Education: First and foremost, women need to be equipped with skills for the future. By 2027, 42% of core skills required for existing jobs will change. Both political and corporate sectors must therefore prioritize reskilling and upskilling for women, especially the tech industry, a vital sector for Japan's future growth. On top of that, schools must promote gender equality. By integrating curricula that emphasize gender equality and the strength of diversity, Japan will forge future generations to be politically active and passionate advocates for real societal change.
The time for incremental change has passed. Japan needs a drastic overhaul of its approach to gender equality if it wishes to remain a global powerhouse. The benefits of such a change are clear - a more robust economy, a more diverse and innovative society, and a brighter future for all its citizens.