Japan Begins Affirmative Action For Women

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his “womenomics” policy to get more women working and into decision-making positions. The move could alleviate some of Japan’s gender inequality issues, but the overarching goals are purely economic.

Japan currently has less women in Parliament than even Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh, according to Bloomberg. Likewise, women hold fewer management positions than in other developed countries, even though they make up the majority of part-time and contract workers.

Abe hopes to fix at least some of those problems. His new affirmative action laws, which passed through parliament with a 230-1 vote, will force companies with over 300 employees to set numerical targets for how many women they will hire and promote into management positions. Then the companies will have to make those targets public by April, 2016, along with their current ratios.

Abe announced the plans on Friday.

“This is the first step toward putting women into positions that have decision-making authority. Japan has moved forward onto a new stage.”

Japan has largely stood alone among developed countries in its poor workplace gender equality.

Political scientist Mari Miura, from Tokyo’s Sophia University, explained that other countries used to have few women in decision making positions too.

“Other countries have implemented lots of mechanisms to increase the number of women and Japan hasn’t done anything. That’s why Japan lags so far behind.”

According to a report quoted by the Wall Street Journal, Japan could raise its GDP 13 percent by closing the gender gap.

But Abe’s plan is dedicated more to averting disaster rather than just boosting the country.

With perilously low birth rates, Japan’s workforce is set to fall by half by 2060. Even with the majority of part-time jobs being held by women, less than 64 percent participated in the workforce. Tapping that group should help alleviate the drop in working people.

Still that plan may backfire.

As lawmaker Seiko Noda pointed out, mothers face a lot of disadvantages in the workplace, such as a lack of childcare. That might mean the birth rate will drop even more if women can find satisfying careers that don’t allow time for raising a family.

Noda said in an interview last month that having more women in government would help put pressure on lawmakers to find solutions to those problems.

“If you want children to be born, you need women. But their voices have not been heard. So no one has dealt with all the issues surrounding children and we are facing this fatal problem.”

Women could help save Japan from a looming budget crunch as fewer and fewer workers support the aging population, but only if the new policies are successful.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]