Japan's huge army of under-employed ex-housewives

BBC -- Aug 30
There are plenty of smart, educated women in Japan who could be driving the country out of its current economic slump to a stunning pandemic recovery.

But the country's rigid hiring system - and male-dominated leadership - remain a huge hurdle, blocking women from the best-paid jobs.

The country risks becoming a nation of bored housewives with university degrees, warn critics.

Japan's own deadline to significantly increase the number of women in leadership roles by 2020, quietly came and went at the end of last year without even getting close to its target.

Known as "Womenomics" and announced with great fanfare, Shinzo Abe's policy to create a "Japan in which women can shine" has largely failed. And not just because of Covid-19.

Today, there is just one woman for every 10 men in parliament, while fewer than 15% of senior private sector roles are held by women - half the original 2020 goal.

Critics believe his policy had little to do with creating social change - allowing women to flourish at work - and more to do with an acute need for workers. Japan's working-age population has been rapidly shrinking since the 1990s.

For decades, about 60% of women quit paid work after their first child. A mother looking after her kids full time - because her husband's income could support the entire family - was traditionally seen as a privilege.

But as the Womenomics policy was brought in, mothers were already starting to return to work as their family incomes dwindled.

Just 42.1% quit in 2019, pushing up labour market participation rates to 70.9% for women aged 15-64, rising to 77.7% in the 25-44 age category, government figures show.

To support this shift the government launched campaigns to eliminate childcare waiting lists. It also pressured large companies to have at least one female executive. But there were no financial incentives, or penalties for failing to take action.