The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo has put the spotlight on Japan’s shrinking population. Last week, protest erupted in Tokyo when it was announced that Japan may bring in as many as half a million foreign workers to meet work demands ahead of the Olympics.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe started an initiative to pull Japan out of an economic slump and meet the need for more workers
back in 2014. Part of the plan, nicknamed “Womenomics“, aimed to address Japan’s gender gap by pushing more women into the workforce and having women fill 30 percent of leadership positions by 2020, which coincides with the start of the Olympics and addresses the issue of a worker shortage.
Despite Prime Minister Abe’s plan to put women in positions of power, his reshuffle of the Cabinet earlier this month reduced the number of female ministers from two to one. The lowest number of women in the Cabinet since December 2012. When asked about the change he said, “ Ms Katayama has the presence of two or three women.”
While Japan says they want more women in the workplace, changing attitudes about women’s roles is a much slower process. Earlier this week, the Ministry of Education found that several medical schools were using various methods to keep women applicants from entering. This comes after an August report regarding Tokyo Medical University’s practice of systematically cutting women’s exam scores to allow more men entrance into the school.
After this incident happened in August, many Japanese people went to twitter to talk about their own cases of discrimination and sexual harassment using the hashtag #私たちは女性差別に怒っていい. The hashtag roughly translates to “it’s okay that we’re angry about discrimination against women.”
The hashtag was trending on twitter in Japan and was also used abroad to show support for the movement. It has had several resurgences as more incidences of discrimination come to light. Several media outlets have also used the hashtag to report on stories about discrimination.
A survey found that dozens of women working for Japanese newspapers and TV networks cited government officials and police officers as perpetrators in about a third of the sexual harassment cases. Earlier in the same month, a Japanese ruling party lawmaker, Kanji Kato, said single women were a burden on the state.
His comments and many of these recent incidents stems from the belief that women should have as many children as possible to bolster the economy and the shrinking population. Women who do not have children are seen as a burden. At the same time, women are also being faulted for leaving the workforce after they give birth and so are thought of as temporary workers who will leave once they get married.
Those who do try to return to work face issues such as lack of daycare services and of family-friendly workplaces. Women who go back to work part-time have few benefits, little job security, not many opportunities for advancement and low pay. Just last year a local politician, Yuka Ogata, in Kumamoto, Japan was expelled from work after she brought her 7-month-old son due to lack of childcare options.
Things don’t get better for women in Japan as they age. Fifty percent of elderly women in Japan aged 65 and older live in poverty. This rate is much higher than the rate for elderly men who have a poverty rate of 29 percent. These women also make up one out of five women in prison. The most common crime among them is stealing. Some elderly women have chosen prison because they feel safer and more cared for there than they do on their own.
A government survey conducted in July found that nearly 71 percent of women that had children were working. This is a 14 point increase since 2004 and the highest level on record. While more women are reentering the workforce, more needs to be done to address the issues that women face at work especially as Japan needs women workers with the upcoming Olympics.