Simply closing the employment gap, according to a 2010 Goldman Sachs report, could increase Japan’s gross domestic product by 15%. This is twice the growth rate of China, reaching the same level of employment of 80% for women as for men.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to tap into this lucrative resource – ‘womenomics’ – include building nearly half a million additional child care centers by 2017 to tackle Japan’s ever-expanding waiting list , and encourage companies to voluntarily offer 3 years childcare leave to their employees.
However, a member of Mr Abe’s education expert group opposes government or business giving a helping hand to make it easier for women to enter the workforce. In fact, “Women should quit their jobs after they give birth,” says Ayako Sono, a conservative author in an essay titled “To Spoiled Women Workers Who Blame Their Employers For Everything” in a recent edition of the weekly magazine Shukan Gendai. .
In an anti-feminist rant that would shame Michele Bachman, Ms. Sono, a prominent novelist and essayist, 81, opens her essay by calling the terms sexual harassment and maternity harassment – discrimination at work against pregnant women – “dirty phrases â, Not for the inequality they represent, but for the overreaction of women to social unrest.
Ms. Sono goes on to advocate that mothers stay home at least until their children are old enough to care for themselves.
“I think this problem of waiting lists for preschools is abnormal. The children have to be brought up at home,” says Sono. Never mind that the post-war economic expansion and lifelong employment that enabled such lifestyles in Japan are no longer a must in this country. If women accepted declining income with the arrival of children as a reality, they would be content to stay home with the children until their husbands brought home the bacon – because mothers “should be with their children.” children as long as possible. “
Ms. Sono is also unhappy with the current system of maternity leave – a right guaranteed by Japanese labor law. “Women are asking for maternity leave, but the system is really a big nuisance to businesses in my opinion.”
âWhy do women insist on keeping their jobs, at the expense of their employers? Ms. Sono laments. Instead, they should end their careers before motherhood. If they want to re-enter the workforce, they should expect to be able to work long hours like any man, she adds.
The prime minister may have set a target of increasing the number of women in leadership positions to 30% by 2020, but Ms Sono doesn’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
“Frankly, it is impossible for women who have been absent from the workforce to follow the same career path as men. But there is nothing you can do about it,” she says, and continues to attack the gradual progress women have made in the workforce by calling them âimmatureâ for viewing callous but harmless comments from male colleagues as sexual harassment.
Ms Sono’s one-woman campaign to roll back gender equality could be dismissed simply because she was not a long-time activist for conservative education reform, winning a seat in the Mr. Abe’s Education Reconstruction Council. designed to âreturn to a strong Japanâ.
And his insistence on mothers staying at home to raise their young children strangely resembles Mr Abe’s push for three-year childcare leave, criticized by feminists as backward, by working women as unrealistic and by companies as too expensive. Ms. Sono is against government-imposed maternity leave and public support for nurseries, but advocates re-employment training.
Mr Abe had the following to offer in his April Growth Strategy speech: “By preparing new programs that allow these people to ‘relearn’ skills at universities, technical colleges, etc.” before resuming their work at full speed, we will provide comprehensive support for the âreturn to work of women after three years of proximity to childrenâ.
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