Between Reproduction and Production: Womenomics and the Japanese Government's Approach to Women and Gender Policies

Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Distributed Paper
Hiroko TAKEDA, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo, Japan
Japan as a country has long been known for its high degree of gender inequality in the areas of political and economic participation. The national government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is internationally known to be a conviction conservative, has introduced a series of new policies and political initiatives to promote women’s labour since 2014. The Abe government’s policy-making has been inspired by so-called ‘womenomics’, an idea put forwarded by a Goldman Sachs strategist, Kathy Matsui, and placed a strong emphasis on the importance of expanding women’s labour participation, locating it at the core of the national growth strategy.  Do these recent political developments mean that the Japanese government is now seriously pursuing gender equality?


By identifying the gap between rhetoric and reality of the Abe government’s policy-making through an examination of government documents and politicians’ narratives, this paper argues that despite its apparent reformist approach, the Abe government’s women and gender policies exhibit a strong continuity with previous policies concerning life and gender. Most problematic is the exclusion of the idea of ‘gender’ from the agenda-setting process and second, the strong emphasis placed on the national economic growth as the policy objective. Furthermore, the national government is concurrently trying to push labour deregulation, while underlining women’s reproductive role through education. As a result, in the current form, the Abe government’s initiative is most likely to result in driving many women to taking up irregular employment, while structural gender inequalities in the labour market and at home will not be removed and women are still projected as the main actor of reproduction---in other words, the existing gender regime in Japan would remain intact. What is required is a radical policy paradigm changing departing from the conventional ‘productivist’ line.