In Japanese, men and women eat differently. This is not a comment on table manners but on language: a man would ku-u, with connotations of devouring his food, while a woman may taberu or, even better, itadaku to humbly consume. This is not just a matter of linguistics: these gender-specific forms, with their different levels of assertiveness and politeness, and the societal expectations behind them, put women at a huge disadvantage against men, in life and particularly in the workplace.
While the rising share of women in the workforce indicates efforts to reform Japanese employment practices are bearing fruit, the ratio still lags far behind men's roughly 70% employment rate. In Scandinavian countries, about 80% of women ages 15 to 64 are working, compared to about 70% in Japan, pointing to further room for improvement in support for working parents.
A staggering 111 million toilets are being built under the program, mainly in rural India. It is the largest toilet-building project in the world, and is expected to dramatically improve the nation's health and economy. Many women have become masons and have started building toilets themselves. "There are 30,000-40,000 woman masons who have taken it up as employment," the project director said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picked just one woman to serve in his revamped 20-member cabinet, a move that seemingly runs counter to his promise of advancing women in the workplace. Satsuki Katayama was appointed minister of regional revitalization and gender equality as part of a cabinet reshuffle. In a report by the World Economic Forum last year, Japan ranked 88th out of 144 countries in the ratio of women to men at the ministerial level.
Japan Inc. is increasingly willing to place women in high positions, motivated by pressure from the Shinzo Abe government and studies indicating that companies with more women perform better. But businesses are running into another problem: They have few internal candidates, having long failed to elevate female employees into senior management, and having done little to fix the country's historically wide gender gap in promotions and pay.
"Basic numbers over time are going to favor a larger and larger number of women being involved [in politics] because women are taking up more and more positions in society in general," said Michael Cucek, adjunct professor of political science at Waseda University. "The flip side is Japan's very great resistance to immigration. Women have to take over many roles that previously men were doing."