The fourth basic policy plan for gender equality promotion, covering five years starting from fiscal 2016, has been approved by the Cabinet. In that plan, the government has virtually given up on the goal of having women occupy around 30 percent of all leadership positions by 2020.
The final year targeted in the plan is fiscal 2020 -- the year set as a deadline for "the 30 percent goal." The government says it has not completely abandoned the numerical target, but it had no choice but to set more realistic figures for different fields since the current situation is far from what it had hoped to achieve.
The renewed numerical targets are all low, deeply disappointingly so. It is especially problematic that the goal for public workplaces, which should set an example, comes in under the once heavily promoted 30-percent promised land.
For example, the fiscal 2020 target for female ministry employees working in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki government district as division directors has been set at 7 percent. Although that is twice as much as the current figure, it misses by a wide margin the present and target proportion in private businesses, which stand at 9.2 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
It is true that there are a limited number of division chief seats for public servants, and trying to drastically increase the rate of women in a short period means having to encourage many male division chiefs to step down. However, the 30 percent goal was announced in 2003. If gender equality measures to achieve that goal were taken more seriously from the beginning, the figure would not have remained as low as 3.5 percent 12 years later. And to say that there are not enough well-trained workers at this point would be a hopelessly transparent excuse.
Meanwhile, women's participation in the Japanese political arena is also lagging behind very badly.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the ratio of women in Japan's House of Representatives is 9.5 percent, pushing the country down to 153rd in the world ranking, while female Cabinet members total three out of 19. This means that gender equality promotion in politics has not even begun.
The basic policy plan keeps the 30 percent target for the ratio of female candidates in elections for both houses. To raise the percentage of female lawmakers to 30 or more, however, having 30 percent of candidates be female is not enough.
While Japan has dawdled in promotion of women in politics over the past 12 years, it seems that the world has leapt forward. The number of countries that have women occupying 30 percent or more of legislative seats has increased from 14 in 2003 to 45 as of November 2015. In Canada, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a Cabinet with equal numbers of men and women -- a first for the country.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the banner of making a society where "all women can shine" as a key policy. It is facing a mountain of issues that require early results, such as expanding child care services, reducing long working hours, encouraging more men to take paternity leave and abolishing tax and social security systems that are premised on married women becoming full-time housewives. And yet, there are only a few legislators or senior public officials tasked with drawing up policies and making decisions on these issues.
Looking at overseas standards, it is common to first promote women to leadership posts in public offices and then set aggressive targets in the private sector.
We hope that Prime Minister Abe, as head of the executive branch of government and leader of the main ruling party, makes changes within the scope of his authority that could lead to change in society.