Japan lags behind in gender equality

By Atsuko Kitayama
March 7, 2010

-Atsuko Kitayama is a a Reuters translator and correspondent based in TorontoReuters is hosting a “follow-the-sun” live blog on Monday, March 8, 2010, International Women’s Day. Please tune in.-

Japan has quite a way to go to narrow its gender gap and come closer to matching the disparities found between the sexes in other G7 countries, statistics show.

According to the 2009 United Nations Development Programme’s Gender Empowerment Measure, the world’s second largest economy ranks 57th out of 109 countries in political and economic participation for women, with female legislators, senior officials, and managers totaling only nine percent of its workforce.

The same statistics rank Germany 9th, Canada 12th, United Kingdom 15th, France 17th, the U.S. 18th and Italy 21st, while the top four spots are taken by Nordic countries.

The World Economic Forum’s 2009 Global Gender Gap Index, which also tracks gender inequality, shows that Japan ranks 101st out of 134 countries, far behind all its peers.

The situation in private corporations is also lackluster. The latest study by Japan’s Gender Equality Bureau of the Cabinet Office found that women accounted for only 4.1 percent of department managers in 2008. The number increased from 2.1 percent in 1999, but it still remains low.

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, shared his assessment on gender inequality during his visit to Japan in November 2009, saying the country is not making the most of women’s talents when it comes to the workforce.

“The opportunity cost of low female labor force participation is significant given the relatively high level of educational attainment of women in Japan,” Gurria said in a speech.

He mentioned Japan and Korea were the only OECD countries where female workforce with a university education is roughly the same as those without an upper secondary education. He added many female workers are only part-time employees.

“Japan is underutilizing the talents of its female population,” Gurria said.

The Secretary General called upon the Japanese government to encourage women’s participation in the overall labor force, saying that the proportion of the female workforce between the ages of 25 and 54 is limited to 65 percent,  “relatively low compared to other OECD countries,” he said. “Moreover, its share has hardly increased since 1994.”

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