What is most important for Japanese women? Getting ahead at work or having babies? These are questions raised in the international media this week, following controversial remarks by a male politician.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga encouraged women to “contribute” to the nation by bearing lots of children. Speaking on a Fuji TV news show, Mr Suga expressed his hopes that a recently announced marriage between two Japanese celebrities would encourage more women to marry and have babies.
Mr Suga is a close political ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The international press generally presented his comments as old fashioned and patronising. For example, the British newspaper The Guardian, which supports gender equality, reported the comments under the headline “Sexism Row“. It went on to explain that Japan performs poorly in international gender equality comparisons. In the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index, it ranked 104th out of 142 countries. The Guardian also highlighted Japan’s low female participation rate in the labour force.
At the recent World Assembly for Women in Tokyo, Mr Abe declared that “Abenomics is Womenomics”. The Japanese parliament recently passed a law calling on companies to find ways to promote more women. Previous initiatives do not seem to have gone well. For example not a single Japanese company has applied for a government subsidy to encourage firms to promote women.
This could undermine efforts to create more jobs for women to compensate for a shrinking workforce. Around 60% of Japanese women leave their jobs for childbirth and many find it difficult to resume their careers. Japan’s business newspaper the Nikkei suggests this is because they lose touch with new technology. The Womenomics plan includes support for mothers to regain workplace skills as well as help for companies that let fathers take time off to care for children.
Japanese women fascinate the international media, which often suggests they have a strange attitudes towards sex and romance. For example, the artist Megumi Igarashi has gained enormous attention for making a boat in the shape of female genitals. And this week many websites reported a new service in Tokyo to send a handsome man with tissues to wipe the tears from distraught women in their offices. Hiroki Terai, creator of Ikemeso – the firm advertising the service, said: “Japanese women are under tremendous stress at the office here in Tokyo, which often ends in in tears. We are here to provide a kind word and brush the tears away by one of our seven lovely men on call.”