Japan Faces Massive Demographic Decline: Could "Womenomics" Help?
Womenomics also seeks to increase the percentage of women in leadership positions to at least 30 percent by 2020. The government set targets to double the number of female managers in national government positions and for women to hold 10 percent of senior manager or higher positions in the private sector by the end of FY2015. It is expected that this will lead to further reforms in the work environment.
The implementation of Womenomics has not been seamless. Numerical targets do not change a patriarchal corporate culture; superficial appointments do not prevent women from being disproportionately criticized when they fail because of the assumption that they are not qualified to be leaders. The resignation of the female Cabinet ministers is the most recent example of the prejudices against women in positions of power. The Abe Cabinet had been criticized for what was perceived to be affirmative action appointments, yet male politicians have a long history of making mistakes, and are provided the opportunity to learn from those experiences and remain or return to power.
Moreover, Womenomics is not the Abe regime’s priority. In December 2014, the Abe Cabinet discarded a bill making it obligatory for companies to employ and promote a certain percentage of female workers to avoid the divisive issue in the general election. Abe will compromise on policies for women if other issues are more important for him.
However, as long as Japanese society holds biases toward women, government intervention is necessary. Japan’s demographic problems can only be addressed by a concerted government effort toward institutional reform, followed by meaningful societal change.
If Prime Minister Abe wants Japan to be a “first tier nation,” he must prevent Japan’s aging society and declining birthrates from suppressing its economic growth. Otherwise, Japan will be forced to decrease expenditures and investments in the military, Official Development Assistance, education, and other vital areas necessary for it to maintain its international relevance. An aging and declining population will slow growth while increasing pressure on the government and working population to pay for the massive costs of elderly care. With the decline of Japan, Asia will lose a vibrant democratic innovator and investor.
Womenomics can ease Japan’s demographic problems and invigorate a sluggish economy. The government must not waver in its efforts to increase female participation in the workforce. As other countries face similar demographic problems, how Japan addresses its problems can serve as a valuable example for the region, and the world.
Tomoko Kiyota is chair of the WSD-Handa virtual working group on “Abe’s demographic policies: lessons for Asia.” This piece is a result of several months of research, writing, and international collaboration undertaken by: Annette Bradford, Rachel Ianacone, Henry Lawton, Tom Le, Seongmin Lee, Naohito Miura, and Daichi Uchimura. For additional information on the group, or for more about the activities of Dr. Haruhisa Handa and the Worldwide Support for Development, contact [email protected]. This piece first appeared in CSIS: PACNET newsletter here.