TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Female government and business leaders from over 60 countries gathered at a forum in Tokyo that began Thursday to discuss how to accelerate women's economic progress worldwide.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the 27-year-old Global Summit of Women, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed the forum's long-lasting efforts to promote women's empowerment and gender equality and said his administration is committed to creating a "society where women shine."
"In the face of falling population, Japan needs the power of women," Abe said. "I believe women's advancement in the society can contribute to create a stronger, diversified society," he said, pledging to reform Japan's work culture, including notoriously long working hours, to make it easier for women to play a more active role in the economy while raising children.
The forum, which continues through Saturday, has attracted a record attendance of more than 1,300 people, mostly women -- including Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, Vietnamese Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh and Japan's Yuriko Koike, the first female governor of Tokyo.
Around 30 former or current Cabinet members of governments around the world are attending this year's forum with the theme "Beyond Womenomics: Accelerating Access," which Japan is hosting for the first time.
Summit president Irene Natividad said at a press briefing Thursday that women can have a "considerable" impact on the economy. The forum offers opportunities to explore ways to improve women's economic status at ministerial and business levels, as well as to foster business alliances among participating entrepreneurs, she said.
"If women's economic potential is fully harnessed, their productivity will be equal to China's and India's economies combined," Natividad said. "So I hope here at the summit we can help unleash that potential economic power."
The forum presented this year's Global Women's Leadership Award to Abe, who has made female empowerment a major pillar of his economic growth strategy as Japan faces a shrinking workforce and aging society.
As part of his efforts to promote female economic advancement and gender equality, Abe launched a similar symposium on women's empowerment, called the World Assembly for Women, in 2014 and has since hosted it annually.
Abe pledged in his address to encourage Japanese men to participate more in child-rearing, such as by obliging government workers to take at least five days off after the birth of a son or daughter. That is an uncommon practice in Japan where difficulty in balancing childcare and work is a major reason many women abandon careers after having children.
Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko and Japan Business Federation Chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara explained business opportunities in Japan to the participants.
Koike told a pre-forum session that as the first female governor of Tokyo, she is strongly committed to women's empowerment, saying in English "women's power is not well utilized in Japan."
Referring to Japan's low level of women's participation in politics -- evidenced by the few female parliament and Cabinet members -- Koike, who is a de facto head of a regional political party, said she plans to field as many female candidates as possible in Tokyo's assembly election in July.
Japan is constantly ranked low in international reports on female empowerment. The 2016 edition of the Global Gender Gap Report, compiled by the World Economic Forum, ranked Japan 111th out of 144 countries.
Robredo, only the second woman to assume the post of Philippine vice president, said Thursday that she is proud of what her country has achieved in terms of gender equality, with the gender gap report ranking the Philippines as the only Asian country in the top 10.
"We still have a lot of women who do not have enough access to economic opportunities," Robredo said at the press briefing. "We're very excited to share our success in the Philippines and also excited to learn from experiences from every one of you, (and from) best practices in many other countries here."