The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Nation & World

January 1, 2014

Japan promises equality, but women find few jobs


During a recent trip to Tokyo, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited DeNA, a video-game and e-commerce company founded by a woman, to drive home Abe's message of promoting women.

"Women are half the sky. They are half the brainpower. They are half the energy. They're half the innovation," Biden said.

More than 300 companies surveyed by Keidanren, an organization representing Japan's top 1,300 companies, promised to abide by Abe's call for child care, flexible hours and awareness training.

But no major company has responded with a high-profile female posting, even as the first female chief executive at General Motors makes headlines in the U.S. No Japanese company is among the 23 Fortune 500 companies run by women.

Kaoru Sunada, a workplace expert at Ochanomizu University in Tokyo, said some internships and affirmative action programs are only for show. He said women are sometimes let go as soon as the programs are completed, and that the problem of highly educated but jobless females is growing.

Emi Shitara, a graduate of a top women's university who speaks six languages, applied to 50 places while in college and didn't land a single job. Her main luck has been with temporary work for foreign employers such as the U.N. and the Harvard Kennedy School. Now 33, she is considering graduate school in the U.S.

"Women are dropping out because they are disillusioned," she said. "If Japan can create new kinds of jobs, for young people and for women, then people will be happy to work."

The fight toward equality has been tough for Japanese women.

The right to vote came only in 1945, more than two decades after their American sisters. A law to protect gender equality in employment passed only in 1985, and it has been criticized as largely toothless. Japan is not a litigation-prone culture, and damage lawsuits rarely result in lucrative victories, meaning that high-profile lawsuits alleging gender bias are rare.

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