Liberal Democratic Party of Japan: Seminar on “Empowering Women”


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General 

15 April 2019 - LDP Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan

(As prepared for delivery) 




Dear Nikai-san, Koizumi-san, Parliamentarians, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here with you today and honoured by the presence of my good friend, Nikai-san. I would like to thank Koizumi-san for organising this seminar on a very important topic for Japan, “Empowering women in public life”, here at the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP).

As championed by Prime Minister Abe, the role of women in public life is crucial for a prosperous economy and sustainable inclusive growth. Better gender balance among politicians promotes inclusive policymaking and boosts trust in government. To increase women’s representation in politics, it is vital that parties themselves are inclusive and promote female candidates during elections.


Unacceptable gender gaps persist

Progress in closing gender gaps across the OECD has been very slow. This is unacceptable and must be tackled more decisively. Women continue to struggle to attain decision-making and leadership positions in public and economic life, and this is true at local, national and international levels. In 2018, women made up, on average, only 29% of parliamentarians in OECD countries, a slight increase from 25% in 2011; while the representation of women in top management in the public service also continues to lag behind, at only 30.5% of positions on average.

Here in Japan, despite a moderate increase, the proportion of women in decision-making in public institutions remains very low: women hold only around 10% of seats in the House of Representatives, and 21% of seats in the House of Councillors. In fact, Japan is the OECD country with the lowest participation of women in parliament. In the 2014 general election, only 15% of candidates were women. Moreover, the previous target of “30% by 2020” set by the Government of Japan, has been revised down to only 7% for senior government jobs and 15% at companies.

Many barriers continue to limit women’s active participation in politics. These include culturally embedded stereotypes; the difficulties of balancing work and personal life; and the unequal distribution of care responsibilities between men and women. For example, access to affordable good-quality childcare services remains a major obstacle in Japan: in 2016, only 22.5% of children under the age of two participated in early childhood education and care, almost 11 percentage points below the OECD average. Women also encounter barriers in skills development and access to financing, further limiting their chances of being elected.

While the female employment has increased significantly due to labour shortages – from 60.7% in 2012 to 69.5% in 2018, well above the 60.1% OECD average – half of the new workers are non-regular workers, leaving them under-represented in leadership positions and even certain professions. Japan has the second lowest share of managerial employment in the OECD. The share of doctors who are women in Japan is the lowest.

Sexual harassment in the workplace also hinders women’s participation, as it creates an intimidating environment that discourages women from getting involved in politics. Following the #metoo movement, some public institutions, such as the UK parliament, carried out an internal audit to assess their own workplace culture, and eliminate bullying and sexual harassment.

These persistent gaps suggest that we need to be smarter and more effective in how we apply gender equality policies, by increasing accountability and allowing equal access to leadership.


The OECD is acting on gender

The OECD has been helping countries to close gender gaps and promote gender equality for many years. Our Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship and monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non- OECD countries.

We have a broader approach as advancing women’s empowerment cannot be a women’s only issue. Just last January, when presenting the OECD report on “Working Better with Age” in Japan, our OECD Sherpa put the emphasis on the benefits for the pension systems to bring more women into the labour force. If we do not do anything about it, in 2050 there will be 8 million less Japanese in the labour force, and women is part of the answer. In the G7 in Canada, we advanced the Gender based budgeting.

We were also the institution that brought the issue of the benefits of economic participation of women to the G20 during the Australian Presidency of the G20 that ended up in the gender target for G20 countries to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25% in 2025. This goal, that was actually presented by the Japanese Sherpa on behalf of many female Sherpas, triggered the work of the G20 and G7 on gender issues, and the creation of the W20. Today, there cannot be a global governance meeting without a gender angle, and we are proud to have contributed with our evidence to this. We are proud to work with the G20 Japanese Presidency to mainstream the gender agenda on several tracks, particularly to address the digital gap, and with the very active W20.

We continue also to advance best practices to inspire countries to advance their gender targets. On International Women’s day (8 March) this year, we launched a new report: “Fast Forward to Gender Equality: Mainstreaming, Leadership and Implementation”. The report stresses that political will is a key driver of success, and highlights innovative policies that have been implemented to promote gender equality in politics. Let me highlight some examples. 

  • After the 2017 elections in France, where parties nominated women for seats in “winnable districts”, women’s participation went up 13 percentage points, with women making up almost 40% of the parliament.

  • Ireland introduced gender quotas ahead of its 2016 general election, enforcing a minimum of 30% of both female and male candidates in political parties. This resulted in an increase from 16% to 22% of women in the Irish parliament. [Note: Norway in Boards – 40%; Germany in Boards – 30%; Mexico in Parliament – 50%]

  • Evidence has also shown that rigorously implemented affirmative measures, accountability frameworks and recourse mechanisms can help countries break the glass ceiling in politics. Just last year, Japan demonstrated its determination when both Chambers of the National Diet passed a “Candidate Gender Equality” law for national and local assemblies.

  • After a gender quota, Mexico reached equality in Congress, moving up from one of the last to the first place in women’s representation. The quality of legislative work has not suffered as some people against it presumed, but actually improved.

And we stand ready to deepen partnership in the area of women’s access to politics in Japan in light of recent efforts.


Ladies and Gentlemen:

But we need to address gender stereotypes, and make men part of the solution. Having a work-life balance is not only for the benefit of women and children, but also for men, and this is particularly important in Japan. Eliminating damaging stereotyping and cultural norms contribute to more cohesive societies, that is good for men and children too. Our recent Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) report put the emphasis on the need to change these cultural barriers and obstacles for more cohesive societies.

The late Kofi Annan said: “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and girls”.

Breaking gender barriers, creating equal opportunities for men and women and encouraging gender equality in the workplace and in public life should not even be an issue in this day and age. It should be the new normal! Let’s make it happen!

The OECD stands ready to support these crucial efforts to make Japan’s commitment to gender equality a reality.  Thank you.




See also:

OECD work on Gender

OECD work with Japan


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