The future of Japan's economy depends on women, says Mori Masako, former minister of gender equality.

For a long time, Japan has discussed ways to address its declining birth rate and achieve gender equality, but has made little progress on either front. Why is that so?

I believe it has to do with a lack of awareness that the birth rate and gender equality are interrelated issues. Yet the government tends to discuss these two topics separately.

In Japan there is a strong belief that women's participation in the workforce contributes to the declining birth rate. But the two agendas - promoting gender parity and raising the birth rate  - are by no means contradictory.

Japan ranks 116th out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index. Across the index's four dimensions, it has particularly low scores in the areas of political and economic participation. We are lagging significantly behind other countries when it comes to gender equality.

By contrast, Japan's scores in the areas of health and education are among the highest in the world. This means that half of our population is made up of healthy, well-educated, high potential and ready-to-work women.

In fact, when it comes to education, the percentage of women entering higher education in Japan is 78.2 %, third highest among OECD countries whose data are available.

Among rich countries, those with smaller gender gaps tend to have higher fertility rates, which shows how gender inequality and population decline are linked. Recognizing that link is key to solving both problems.

I believe the same minister should be in charge of women's empowerment and the declining birth rate. That would bolster the synergy between such policies, and make them more effective.

Goldman Sachs, a bank, has estimated that if the employment rate and working hours of women, including those with advanced education, improved to the same level as men's Japan's GDP would increase by 15%.

Investment in women's education has failed to lead to higher incomes for women, but there are undoubtedly many Japanese women who are not yet fully active in the labour market.

To date, the Japanese government has had some successes in promoting women's advancement. For instance, in 2016 it pushed companies to disclose information under the Act for the Promotion of Women's Advancement in the Workplace, increased the number of female workers [ by 3.4 million over the past decade ] and fixed the M-shaped curve in female employment rate [ the rate of 25 -to 44-year-olds is now around 80% ].

The government has also expanded child-care facilities to accommodate more than 3 million children, improved the maternity-leave benefit system [ such benefits are now exempt from tax and social insurance costs ] and amended the paternity-leave system to allow more flexibility.

These efforts have created an environment that is more conducive to raising children while working. As it has become easier to balance child care and work, more women have decided to give birth while carrying on with their jobs.

A recent survey showed that for the first time in 19 years, the number of children of couples in which the wife has a college degree or higher rose, to 1.74 in 2021.

Many Japanese would like to have more children. One survey found that more than 80% of married couples wanted to have two or more children. The next step to making that possible is to promote women's economic empowerment. We must create an environment where women can have children and still shine as individuals.

Kishida Fumio's administration, of which I am a member, has placed women's economic empowerment at the core of its ''new capitalism'' agenda. Specifically, starting in July 2022, the government is requiring private companies that employ more than 300 workers to disclose information about wage gaps between male and female employees.

Japanese companies care about reputational risk, so we believe this measure will be effective in reducing the wage gap.

I strongly believe that the future of Japan's economy depends on women. That is why I set up a study group on '' Women and the Economy '' in 2022. I am now applying the knowledge I gained from it in my current role, as a special adviser to the prime minister. 

Women are Japan's ''hidden asset''. We must eliminate factors that hinder their success and ensure they reach their full potential. This will be good for women, and it will raise the birth rate and help Japan overcome its demographic challenges, too.

The World World Students Society thanks The Economist.


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