Just last September, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in his speech at the United Nations that one of the goals of his administration is to make gender equality a priority in the country’s political and policy agenda. Figures from the same month show that the employment rate among women aged 15 to 64 in Japan has risen to a record high 63%, a positive sign that the country is moving towards the right direction.
The administration is looking at working women to be a key economic driver under its growth strategy, especially as the aging population and declining birthrate will lead to labor shortage problems. The survey shows that in September, 24.7 million out of the 39.2 million women in the 15-64 age bracket or 63% were gainfully employed. The previous record high was at 62.5%, recorded in April of this year as well. The steady increase of female employment may be attributed to the increase of jobs in the welfare and nursing care industry. Another reason, for the married women at least, may be the slow growth of their spouse’s salary, which drives the need to find a job and supplement their family’s financial capability.
However, additional data from the labor force survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry also show that Japan still has a long way to go towards improving gender equality in the workforce. While there is a steady increase in companies that willfully hire women, a large number of them are being offered part-time and non-regular positions. The percentage of men without full-time work is at 21.3% while for women, it’s much bigger at 56.5%. Probably more telling is the fact that only 40% of women go back to work after giving birth to their first child because there is not enough of a support system that will enable them to do so. According to Shingo Ikeda, deputy chief researcher at the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training, the major reasons for women not going back to work are the long hours and their part-time status. This is a situation that the Abe government has said they are looking at rectifying in order for more women to play a role in the corporate world.