published Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Japan prime minister selects 5 women in new Cabinet

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils a new lineup of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils a new lineup of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TOKYO — Japan's prime minister picked a record-matching five women for his Cabinet Wednesday, sending the strongest message yet about his determination to revive the economy by getting women on board as workers and leaders.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set a goal of having women in 30 percent of leadership positions by 2020, and proved he is out to practice what he preaches in his selection for the 18-member Cabinet, which includes Yuko Obuchi, daughter of a former prime minister, as the trade and economy minister.

Having five women in the Cabinet is extremely rare for Japan, and is the record number set in 2001. The previous Cabinet, dissolved earlier in the day, had two women ministers.

Abe has stressed that his policies of economic growth, dubbed "Abenomics," center around utilizing the talent of women and empowering them, or so-called "womenomics."

Since he took office in late 2012, the world's third-biggest economy after the U.S. and China has been on a recovery track, with stock prices rising and major companies' earnings improving.

Several top ministers were retained, such as Fumio Kishida as foreign minister and Taro Aso as finance minister, both men.

Although holding ministerial positions are in some ways ceremonial in Japan — where government affairs are largely run by professional bureaucrats, who stay on regardless of new ministers — expanding the presence of women in a place as high-profile as the Cabinet is a victory for sexual equality in Japan.

The Geneva-based World Economic Forum ranked Japan 105th in last year's Global Gender Gap Report, which measures economic equality and political participation. Iceland was No. 1, followed by the Scandinavian nations. Germany was 14th and the U.S. 23rd.

In the U.S., President Barack Obama has three women in Cabinet positions. Women make up about half the ministers in France.

Women make up 3.9 percent of board members of listed Japanese companies, versus 12 percent in the U.S. and 18 percent in France, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Abe risked offending the long line of powerful men in his ruling party, who had been waiting to get their promotions. Some experts say provoking such anger can weaken Abe's grip on power and can even endanger his own position.

Among the women appointed were Midori Matsushima, a former trade and economy minister, as justice minister; Sanae Takaichi, another former trade and economy minister, as minister of internal affairs and communications; and Eriko Yamatani as minister in charge of Japanese abducted by North Korea, an area she has been active in the past.

A woman was also tapped to be minister in charge of promoting women, Haruko Arimura. All five are legislators.

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