Japan’s top social problem is the role Iof women. The sexism of corporate Japan is legendary, and many millions of Japanese women are underemployed and out of the labor force; yet instead of pushing women back to traditional child-rearing roles, this has mainly just lowered the fertility rate to sub-European levels. But since taking office, Abe -- whose party is famous for sexist gaffes -- has become the most feminist leader I’ve ever seen.
He constantly talks about the need to make women more equal in the workplace -- no small thing in a country where corporations have a reputation for following the government’s wishes. Abe’s detractors dismiss this as empty talk, but talk is never empty, especially when you say things that no one has said before. And Abe is putting his money where his mouth is, with a raft of measures to improve working women’s access to affordable day care.
Already, I can sense a shift. When I lived in Japan 10 years ago, people said that women’s situation would never change, and treated women’s second-class status as an immutable fact of Japanese culture. Nowadays, when I go back, everyone is talking about women’s changing role, and everyone agrees that Abe is the prime mover.
Don't get me wrong; things have got better. Women don't have to face Tory MPs wiggling their hands under imaginary breasts and mouthing "melons" when they get up to speak – as Labour's Barbara Follett did when she became an MP in 1997. Or Gillian Shephard's experience when she arrived in 1987 to find herself called Betty by an MP who explained he called all the female MPs that "because you're all the same . . . it's easier". These were just a few of the experiences recounted by a major study of women MPs back in 2004, The New Suffragettes by Boni Sones.
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