Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Leap for Japan's Women - and Its Economy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Leap for Japan's Women - and Its Economy

Article excerpt

Tokyo, which is one of the world's largest cities, just elected its first female governor, Yuriko Koike. In Japan, a country far behind in advancing women in the workplace, her election is a milestone. The former TV newscaster likens her victory more to a break in a sheet of steel than a crack in the glass ceiling. What helped her defeat two male opponents? A big factor was her focus on a main issue for Tokyo families: long waiting lists for daycare.

Enabling more women to work has become essential for Japan, the world's third largest economy. The country's economic growth has been largely stagnant for nearly a quarter century despite high government spending and other financial stimuli. One obvious reform is to improve the rate of female participation in the labor force, which helps drive consumer demand and improves productivity. If Japan were to achieve a rate similar to northern Europe, according to the International Monetary Fund, it would increase its gross domestic product per capita by 10 percent.

The current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has been trying for four years to improve conditions for working women. He has increased childcare places and lessened the tax on families' second earners. But he admits that attitudes about gender roles in Japan are "unwittingly, firmly ingrained within us. …

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