Japan To Host 'World Assembly For Women' Next Month

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe

Japan will host a women-focused international meeting next month where prominent business and political figures are to discuss how to link female participation in the workforce with economic growth, officials said Tuesday.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, will be speakers at the “World Assembly for Women in Tokyo” or “WAW! Tokyo”.

In an interview with the leading Nikkei business daily last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the conference would be a “Davos meeting for women”, referring to the World Economic Forum event held annually in the Swiss city.

The meeting would run over two days from September 12 with about 100 prominent business and political figures including US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and Disney Media Networks boss Anne Sweeney.

“We hope that this assembly will be an opportunity to share experiences over how to overcome challenges in empowering women, such as work-life balance and socially persistent assumptions of gender roles,” said a foreign ministry official involved in setting up the meeting.

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The conservative Abe has been pushing to boost the number of working women in Japan to help kickstart growth in the world’s number three economy.

The country has one of the lowest rates of female workforce participation in the developed world and most economists agree it badly needs to increase the number of working women to grow its economy as the population rapidly ages.

But a lack of childcare facilities, poor career support and deeply entrenched sexism are blamed for keeping women at home, and for one of the lowest birthrates in the developed world as young women see having children as obstacles to their careers.

The issue of entrenched sexism within Japanese society was highlighted in June after Tokyo city council members from Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party hurled sexist jeers at an assembly women during a debate on motherhood.