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Statement on the Gender Gap Index Published by the World Economic Forum

On March 31, 2021, the World Economic Forum (“WEF,” headquartered in Geneva) published the “Gender Gap Index,” which represents the state of gender equality in each country. Japan ranked 120th out of 156 countries, which is the second lowest position ever, albeit gaining one place from a year ago, and the lowest rank in the G7 states. In addition, this rank falls behind major Asian countries.

The Gender Gap Index analyzes and ranks the status of women in four subindexes: Economy (“Economic Participation and Opportunity”), Politics (“Political Empowerment”), Education (“Educational Attainment”), and Health (“Health and Survival”). In Economy and Politics, which constitute the major factors contributing to bringing down Japan’s overall position every year, Japan ranks 117th and 147th, respectively, having downgraded its position even further than a year ago.

In the Economy subindex, same as last year, Japan’s scores rank below 100 for three indicators: estimated earned income; senior officials and managers; and professional and technical workers. Among these, in particular, the ranking of the ratio of women to men among senior officials and managers has dropped to 139th from 131st a year ago, reflecting the fact that gender inequalities in Economy have not been eliminated at all no matter how the Government has been upholding a policy of promoting women’s empowerment.

Yet, as in last year’s edition, the direst situation lies in Politics. While Japan went Top 10 least gender-equal countries last year exhibiting a significant drop of 19 places since a year ago, its ranking in this year’s edition has further descended three positions. The percentages of women in the Diet and in ministerial positions rank 140th and 126th, respectively, still stuck in low positions. Such gender inequality embedded in Politics leads to the policymaking that lacks gender perspectives, making direct adverse impacts to the daily lives of women, who remain socioeconomically vulnerable. For instance, in the face of the havoc of the COVID-19 pandemic bringing about the labor market decline, increases in domestic violence (DV) and child abuse, the exacerbation of poverty in single-mother households, a spike in female suicides and so on, the countermeasures adopted to address these issues were not designed appropriately so that, on the contrary, the sudden issuance of a request requiring the closure of elementary schools and junior high schools nationwide precipitated a situation where women, who are actually assuming major responsibilities for childcare, were subjected to difficulties in keeping their jobs. Also, designating the household head to be the beneficiary of the per-capita coronavirus cash handouts on behalf of the family, blocked DV victims’ access to the money. Additionally, no significant progress has been made in facilitating the introduction of a discretional separate-surname retaining system for married couples, despite the recommendations made by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as well as the shift in public awareness. Thus, women’s political participation is indispensable to improve the social status of women in every area. Without political participation of women, it will be infeasible to realize a society where each individual is respected and diversity is guaranteed, as well as to develop democracy in Japan. Hence increasing the number of female legislators and women in ministerial positions is a pressing issue. The current situation in Japan does not afford us to waste even a moment, so that concrete actions need to be taken immediately, including the legislation of quotas specifying the number of women.

Concerned about the state of the matter in Japan, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (“JFBA”) has published a statement on the gender gap index every year, but the situation has not improved. The remarks made by the then President of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in February 2021, combined with the manner the Committee and the Japanese Olympic Committee responded to it as if trying to defend the President, revealed the prejudice, discrimination, and inequality in handling women that lodge firmly in the Japanese society. The extent of gender gaps in Japan is at a level where the state’s international trust may even be lost and causing people to feel stuck.

The JFBA calls strongly on the Government to face the current situation and undertake the following actions in order to realize a society where each individual can live lively, free of feeling stuck, and regardless of gender: eliminating gender gaps in the workplace and implementing programs that help promote women’s empowerment further; and perceiving the promotion of women’s political participation as a critically important issue and taking more effective and concrete actions and measures immediately.

April 22, 2021
Tadashi Ara
President, Japan Federation of Bar Associations

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