The Herald Bulletin

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January 1, 2014

Japan promises equality, but women find few jobs

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants women like Tomo Tamai to go back to work.

Tamai is eager to do so, nearly two years after her first child was born, but so far the 35-year-old former national government employee has only been able to find an internship.

Abe, who took office a year ago, has made the advancement of women a pillar of his economic revival policies in the most aggressive and ambitious initiative to back the rise of Japanese women in years. Tamai's struggles show why doubts remain about whether it's enough to overcome entrenched discrimination in the workplace.

"It is a bunch of flag-waving," said Tamai, who holds a doctorate in literature from Nihon University. "I don't see how he has the vision to realize the goal of helping us, those people struggling to raise a child, working and doing housework."

The government is beefing up child care. It is encouraging companies to grant three years of maternity leave, or flexible hours during that period. It is also asking publicly held companies to promote women to leadership positions so they hold 30 percent of such posts by 2020.

Although women make up 40 percent of Japan's workers, they face discrimination in hiring, promotion and pay. On average, a Japanese woman makes 70 percent of a man's wage for equal work, according to government data.

The government also says women held just 12 percent of private-sector managerial jobs in 2012 and fared even worse at higher levels, making up only 5 percent of section chiefs. Some critics and women workers say they tend to be confined to second-class status, not taken seriously for what is considered "a man's job."

They are underrepresented in government as well, comprising 11 percent of the more powerful lower house of parliament, 18 percent of the upper house, and just 2.5 percent of managerial positions among public servants.

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