Amidst his whirlwind tour through Australia, in which he has signed free trade agreements and defense technology deals, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took time out on Tuesday to do an interview with the Nikkei business daily to discuss another aspect of his policies: how he plans to improve the role of women in Japan. As Abe’s “third arrow” of economic reforms comes into greater focus, he will need to provide further clarity on how he plans to bring about gender reform. While not overly ambitious by Western standards, his goal to have women occupy 30 percent of leadership positions in Japanese society by 2020 will take significant effort in order to be achieved.
During his interview on Tuesday, Abe said he will launch a new version of the Davos economic forum that is female focused. Hosting the event in September in Tokyo, Abe plans to have leading female international figures such as IMF chief Christine Lagarde and the U.K.’s Cherie Blair attend. His details on the itinerary of such a summit or what its goals might be were sparse.
With Japan’s female labor force participation rate 0ne of the lowest in the developed world, Abe is attempting to drive expectation that this event can spur change. To set the stage he said “Women have the greatest potential, and allowing them to demonstrate their full abilities is the core of our growth strategy… This will be a Davos meeting for women.”
The idea of a women focused Davos forum serves two purposes for Abe’s LDP government at the moment. It may indeed spur interest in female friendly corporate practices, something Japanese businesses sorely lack currently. It is also a way to avoid some of the heat the LDP has seen from its weak response in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly to the heckling of Assemblywoman Ayaka Shiomura last month. While the national Liberal Democratic Party made generalized statements condemning the action and defending the rights of women, the local LDP has done little to help identify the remaining people responsible. While more details on the forum in September will be released in the coming weeks, Abe’s LDP government will do whatever possible to make sure it is seen as progressive on women’s rights in the workplace. Whether the forum and the LDP are actually able to increase women’s role in the workforce will be much more difficult, but the numbers will underscore their effectiveness.