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The Gender Gap in Japan: Present Situation and Issues

According to the Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum released in October 2013, Japan ranks 105th among 136 countries in terms of gender equality; last year Japan ranked 101st. According to the 2012 Gender Inequality Index of the United Nations Development Program, however, Japan ranks 21st among 148 countries in the same field. Since methods of calculation are different, it is uncertain which of these surveys is correct, but the disclosure of such inconsistent results itself suggests that gender equality in Japan is a very problematic issue.
The 2013 White Paper on Gender Equality issued by the Cabinet Office offers some clues about the present status of gender equality in Japan and issues.

M-Curve Improving but Still Behind the West
In 2012 Japan's labour force population numbered 65.55 million people, down 360,000 from the previous year. Of them, the number of women was 27.66 million (down 20,000 from the previous year), meaning that women accounted for 42.2% of the labour force. When tracked by age group, the ratio of women's participation in the labour force (that is, the ratio of women in the labour force to the female working-age population) follows an M-shaped curve. Although this curve was flatter than before in 2012, it still clearly depicted an M-shape. In the past many women quit their jobs at the time of marriage or childbirth, but the flatter curve in 2012 suggests that an environment is being established in which they can continue working. In European and North American countries, however, the curve does not appear M-shaped at all, so clearly Japan still has a long way to go to create a situation in which women can continue their jobs, including the provision of better child daycare facilities and shorter working hours.

High Nonregular Ratio among Women
The ratio of nonregular employees, such as part-time and temporary workers, is increasing for both genders, but it is especially high for women. The ratio of nonregular employees among women rose from 32.1% in 1985 to a majority of 54.5% in 2012. The ratio of regular employees is declining for men as well, but it still stood at 80.3% in 2012, which is much higher than the regular employment ratio for women.

Longer Employment for Women but Still Few Female Managers
The number of continuous years of employment is gradually getting longer for women, but the ratio of women in managerial posts remains low. According to the Labour Force Survey (Basic Totals) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the ratio of women in managerial posts in 2012 (excluding the civil service and schools) remained at a low level of 11.6%.
According to the 2012 Basic Statistical Survey on the Wage Structure of the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, by managerial post, the ratio of women subsection chiefs was highest at 14.4%. The ratio of women in higher positions drops to 7.9% for the equivalent of section chiefs and 4.9% for the equivalent of department chiefs.

Gender Wage Gap Narrowing but Still Wide
Although it is narrowing over the long term, the average wage gap between male and female ordinary workers remains significantly wide. In 2012, if the wages of male ordinary workers are taken to be 100, the wages of female ordinary workers stood at 70.9, down 0.3 points from the previous year. Furthermore, in the case of regular employees or regular staff, the wages of women stood at 73.4, down 0.1 point from the previous year.
The main reasons for this wage disparity between men and women include the fact that, although they are working longer, women still work for shorter periods than men and do not climb so high on the career ladder.

RENGO's Gender Equality Policy
RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) has formulated a gender equality policy and is promoting a campaign to change the social fabric and realize a gender-equal society. The main points of RENGO's policy are as follows:

  • Prohibit gender discrimination in the field of employment, correct wage gaps, and revise the Equal Employment Opportunity Act to establish a "Gender-Equal Employment Act" in order to realize gender equality.
  • Revise the Part-time Work Act so as to realize the equal treatment of part-time workers.
  • Actively promote the entry of men into female-dominated jobs.
  • Guarantee 100% wages during child-raising period.
  • Realize a gender-equal society in which people can display their personalities and abilities regardless of their sex.
  • Revise ways of working, shorten working hours for both men and women, and establish an environment supporting the combination of work, childcare, nursing care, and other duties so as to realize a work-life balance for both men and women.
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