Akie Abe, who is married to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has spoken out against her culture’s preoccupation with “kawaii,” or cuteness, saying that it hinders women’s progression within the workforce.
“Japanese men tend to prefer cute women over capable and hardworking women,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “So women try to appear to be the type that men like. Even very talented women put on cutesy ways.”
“My feeling is that women don’t necessarily want to work in the same way as men, such as thinking it’s good to be promoted,” Abe added. “There is now an effort to change the way people work, working efficiently within a given time rather than late at night, so that women’s viewpoints can be reflected in a way they haven’t been in the past.”
Representation of women in Japan’s workforce is notoriously lacking. The country ranked 101 out of 145 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Index. Though the rate of female labor participation is around 66 percent, women hold few upper-level management positions. And many women stop working after they have children due to a variety of factors: lack of daycare services, company cultures that endorse excessively long working hours, and outright harassment.
In an effort to improve Japan’s economy, which has stagnated due to an aging population and low birth rates, Prime Minister Abe has vowed to bring women into at least 30 percent of Japan’s management roles. Akie Abe, who worked at an advertising agency before her marriage, has lent support to her husband’s efforts. She launched seminars that instruct women on how to become more active members of society, and has been involved in an initiative that seeks to support female farmers. Abe also told Bloomberg News that she believes it is important to bolster women’s presence in the country’s political sphere.
“It is difficult for women to express their opinions if they are completely outnumbered,” she said. “So I think the numbers are quite important.”
Read the full story at Bloomberg.