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Empowering women ‘key to economy’

With Japan facing a shortage of labour due to the low birth rate in the country for the past two decades, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is looking at the nation’s female citizens as an untapped reservoir of potential for the workforce, embassy officials told the Post recently.

Ai Onishi, third secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Cambodia.
Ai Onishi, third secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Cambodia. Heng Chivoan

“New policies and targets have the aim of enabling the empowerment of women, and Prime Minister Abe has great interest in this policy.”, according to Takayoshi Koromiya, counsellor at the Japanese Embassy.

On September 12 to 14, there will be a World Assembly for Women held in Tokyo in which Abe himself will participate. The prime minister has invited women leaders from around the world to address the issue of how to empower women, said Koromiya.

“We are well aware of the untapped potential of women in the workforce, but unfortunately, Japan has not been actively seeking to access this potential. So these targets and policies are very important,” he added.

The empowerment of women is part of the “Abenomics” strategy that consists of three aspects: The first aspect is monetary policy, essentially easing the flow of money. The second aspect is introducing dynamic and efficient public financing, and the third is revitalising the economy and its workforce to achieve continual economic growth.

The first and second aspects have almost been completed. But in order to continue achieving economic growth, Japan has to implement the third aspect, which is the most important element.

But it’s not something the government alone cannot implement, Koromiya said.

Koromiya explained that the empowerment of women is essential to Japan’s growth strategy, because the country is facing a demographic timebomb with the population decreasing.

In order to cope with this problem, Japan may make use of foreign labour, but that is not a sufficient answer to Japan’s problems, Koromiya said. Because foreign labour forces can’t speak Japanese and may not know Japanese culture or the Japanese way of life, integration into the workforce can often become an issue. The solution, he said, may very well exist within the country’s own borders.

“We have to pay attention to diversifying our companies; women will be used to fill the labour force void to help generate economic growth. We have to promote women as important to the economy”, Koromiya said.

According to a report carried out by a Japanese think tank, if female labour were being utilised to its potential, Japanese GDP could rise as much as 16 per cent.

The report also shows that the first target to help stimulate growth is to have women occupying 30 per cent of leadership positions in major businesses in Japan by 2020. Last year, the figure was 7.5 per cent. Another goal is to have 73 per cent of women aged 25 to 44 in the workforce by 2020.

Hayashi Eiichiro, project formulation adviser at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said the government of Japan has been cooperating with ministries in Cambodia to promote women empowerment in Cambodia as well.

He said that respect of women is another important factor. If a husband respects his wife and allows the wife to work, he empowers the woman to decide what she wants to do.

“I try as much as I can to respect my wife. Most Japanese men try to show respect to women” said Eiichiro.

He added: “I have two daughters myself; my position in the family is getting lower. My wife sees the children as the primary concern, and I am secondary. It is slowly happening everywhere in Japan and it is an interesting development in society and an example of women empowerment.”​​

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