Political Targets: Womenomics as an Economic and Foreign Relations Strategy Asie.Visions, No. 92, April 2017
This paper provides an overview of the womenomics strategy launched by Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and shows how a plan designed to mitigate Japan’s demographic crises and labor shortages also evolved into a foreign relations strategy to help manage Japan’s reputation abroad on gender equality.
Four years have passed since Prime Minister Abe launched his Three Arrows of reform – “Abenomics” – to revitalize Japan’s economy. The first arrow targeted monetary policy; the second fiscal policy, and the third structural reform – including a measure aimed at reducing barriers to women’s participation in the labor force; this part quickly became known in the media as “womenomics”.
Demographic and economic pressures make it imperative for the Japanese government to employ more women as its population ages and shrinks, but Japan has been under great international pressure over its disappointing record on women’s equality as well. What began as an economic strategy about women became also a foreign relations strategy that could help the Japanese government reframe the narrative and its reputation as a country that fails its women; it has also faced increasing criticism and even condemnation from human and women’s rights activists and organizations for its position on the Comfort Women issue. Womenomics is also a public relations strategy for the government to signal to other countries, financial and international institutions, investors and rights organizations, that it is taking action on two important fronts: economic reforms and gender equality. The inclusion of women can provide economic and political benefits to Japan.
Although the government has missed many of its intended targets, womenomics has made an impact, and helped to center Japanese women on the national and international stage. It may not have produced substantive changes over four years, but it will undoubtedly be an important part of Shinzo Abe’s legacy as prime minister. To stay on course, Japan must make womenomics a long-term strategy – one that does not lose momentum when Abe leaves office.