The sincerity of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s self-professed desire to help combat the pervasive stigma against women in the workforce and leadership positions has been called into question after he named only one woman to his new 19-member cabinet. Abe reshuffled his cabinet following his successful re-election as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic party, an achievement that all but ensured he would remain prime minister until at least November of next year. But his outgoing internal affairs minister, Seiko Noda, who was one of just two women in his prior cabinet, has publicly said that she is “extremely worried” about the lack of women represented in positions of power within the party. Asked about the issue by reporters, Abe said that his sole woman appointee, regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama, had the “presence of two or three women” and that he hoped she would “use that to promote the goal of female empowerment.”
“We must recognize that the ratio of women cabinet ministers is low compared with other countries, but Japan has just begun to create a society where women can be more active. I think we will nurture people who can become cabinet ministers,” said Abe, claiming that he had only just begun his work on the so-called “womenomics” campaign that he has championed since he was first named prime minister in 2012.
Adding to the controversy, it was discovered that Katayama was forced to rush to a department store and buy a new dress ahead of a ceremony announcing the naming of the new ministers because Cabinet Office officials declared the two outfits she brought were inappropriate. According to the Mainichi newspaper, an official told Katayama that it was “the norm” for women’s jackets and dresses to be of matching colors.
The obstacles facing women in the Japanese workplace have been highlighted following the revelation that Tokyo Medical University deliberately falsified exam scores for more than a decade in order to keep the number of female students at around 30 percent — apparently because they believed that men were more likely to become doctors and work at the university hospital. Just 10 percent of MPs in Japan’s lower house are women, and a 2016 study found that a third of women working in Japan faced sexual harassment in the workplace.
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