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Editorial: Japan's new gov't needs to prioritize tackling gender inequality

The elimination of gender disparity hasn't progressed much in Japan, which recently was ranked 121st among 153 nations in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index, and though it is one of the country's top priority issues, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga lacks the attitude to make serious efforts to solve the problem.

    Suga mentioned reducing the number of children on waiting lists for day care openings and other matters regarding child care during an inaugural press conference, and said, "We will prepare an environment where women can give birth and raise children with a sense of security and play an active role in good health."

    His comment offers a glimpse of an old-fashioned mindset that child-rearing is a women's job. Suga did not mention about reducing the burden on women, or improving their working conditions.

    Japan is especially behind international standards when it comes to the issue of women in politics. There are only two female members in Suga's Cabinet. Though the number of Cabinet members increased by one from the time of the resignations of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet members, Suga's Cabinet now has one less female member than Abe's.

    Female lawmakers make up only 10% of the House of Representatives and 23% of the House of Councilors. There must be a full-scale discussion on introducing a quota system that sets a mandatory percentage of female candidates. But the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai has half-heartedly said, "It (the percentage) is something that should be decided by the electorates."

    The Abe administration called for "a society in which women shine" and enacted the Act on Promotion of Women's Participation and Advancement in the Workplace, which requires companies to set numerical targets for hiring women and females in managerial positions.

    In the seven years up to 2019, about 3.3 million more women have joined the workforce, and the rate of female employees who continue to work after childbirth has increased.

    The problem here, however, is the underlying idea of using women to make up for a shortage in labor.

    More than half of the women in the workforce are non-regular employees with non-permanent jobs, and are in unstable conditions. The number of female workers in April decreased by some 700,000 compared to March due to the coronavirus pandemic. This figure is nearly twice of that for male workers. Including regular workers, there is also a wide wage gap between men and women.

    The Japanese government has abandoned its goal of achieving around a 30% ratio of women in leadership positions by 2020, and plans to turn the target to "a period as early as possible by 2030." But at this rate, it is doubtful that Japan can achieve the goal.

    During the LDP presidential election, Suga said he would succeed the Abe administration in regards to female empowerment policies. But achieving a breakthrough in the deadlock situation by continuing ineffective efforts is unlikely.

    While Suga has set the tone to tackle the issue of vested interest and bad precedentism, what really should be addressed is a society that gives preferential treatment to men.

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