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Womenomics: Mend the gap

17 1 1

Shortly after becoming minister in charge of promoting “dynamic engagement of all citizens” in the Abe administration, Katsunobu Kato was asked if Japan could expect a woman to ascend the Imperial throne anytime soon. Kato, whose job in the Cabinet at that time also included promoting women’s roles in society, quashed the idea by replying he was against ending current rules of male-only hereditary succession.

Japan, an isolated country steeped in tradition, faces the challenge to grow its economy against the tide of mild deflation, a shrinking workforce and an aging population. More women are now working due to womenomics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to stimulate the economy. Many, however, still professionally underachieve.

In the worst cases women face outright discrimination, as exemplified by the recent entrance exam-fixing scandal at Tokyo Medical University. More often family, friends and neighbors apply pressure to conform to societal norms of work, marriage and daily life. Yet lifestyles suited to older generations are less fitting to today’s generation of younger women, many who will assume multiple roles beyond that of homemaker over the course of much longer, multistage lives.

In traditional Japan, men remain the primary breadwinners with women playing more limited supportive roles. “If you grew up only living in Japan, you would never know what the outside world looks like,” says Hiromi Murakami, founder of the Japan Institute for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship (JSIE). Through her non-profit institute, Murakami aims to awaken women so they can achieve their full potential. “By the time women make important life decisions, like getting married or choosing school or work, they think they have so many limits,” even though they are free to do many things, she says.

Murakami drew on her own career experiences in overcoming Japan’s gender gap to start JSIE. After university, she trained at........

© The Japan Times