TOKYO (CNN/TV ASAHI) – Japan’s first lady is addressing a crisis facing her country.
Millions of highly educated Japanese women are not working – held back by a corporate culture that critics say heavily favors men.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe knows if this continues, the stagnant economy will dip even lower.
He and his wife Akie Abe are pushing “Womenomics” – women in 30-percent of leadership roles by the 2020 Olympics.
Promoting women into leadership positions is only half of the battle. the other half is keeping them in the work force. Working moms in Japan still face huge challenges in 2014.
Some women say they feel forced to sacrifice their careers if they want to have children.
Behind Tokyo’s futuristic façade – a workplace culture that critics say is stuck in the past where success means brutally long days in the office… and networking into the wee hours. A system built for salarymen with little flexibility for working moms.
Sayaka Osakabe says she was pregnant, putting-in 15-hour days at her corporate job.
“I was working ’till almost midnight,” she says. “I felt a growing pain in my belly. Then I had a miscarriage,” unemployed mother Sayaka Osakabe said.
During her second pregnancy, Osakabe says her request for reduced hours was denied.
“I wanted to keep my job,” she says. “I kept pushing myself. One week later, I had another miscarriage,” Osakabe said.
Feeling forced to choose between family and career, she quit.
Thousands are joining her online petition asking lawmakers to protect working mothers.
Japan needs more women to have children, the fertility rate is very low, the population is getting older and shrinking, but this stagnant economy also needs more workers.
A double crisis facing lawmakers.
Like the corporate world, Japan’s political world is dominated by men.
The few women elected into office can still face sexism.
This summer, Tokyo City lawmakers shouted chauvinistic insults about marriage and children as Ayaka Shiomura gave a speech about parenting.
Only one bowed to public pressure and apologized.
“It finally showed that sexual harassment is unacceptable,” Shiomura said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is calling for his country to embrace “Womenomics” to bring more women into the workplace.
He has more than doubled his female cabinet ministers. And he’s pushing for more women in leadership roles.
30-percent by the 2020 Olympics.
So many educated Japanese women are in part-time jobs, temporary jobs.
How is that affecting your country?
“Its hurting Japan’s economic growth,” she says. “This is part of why our economy is stagnant,” Shiomura answered.
Japanese mothers are leavning their careers, and staying away, at a far higher rate than women in other wealthy countries.
“I want to have a baby,” Osakabe says. “But I also want to work.”
A balance that eludes millions of women, even in modern japan.