In view of the challenges which the Japanese economy faces, politicians in recent years acknowledged the need for a social system in which women can maximize their full potential. Despite a high educational level among the female population, the career path of women is usually interrupted for longer periods of time upon the birth of their first child. After the childcare years, women frequently tend to work part-time, which includes lower wages and less career opportunities. Under the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, policies aimed at supporting the further integration of women into the workforce were dubbed “womenomics”. These policies aim at, for example, facilitating the availability of childcare institutions, thus enabling a higher compatibility of work and family life. While the female employment rate has increased in recent years, the number of women in leadership positions, such as managerial positions or among politicians, is still comparatively low. Factors such as long work hours and informal gatherings after work, which also represent opportunities for networking, make it difficult for people who have to take care of children to advance within the workplace.
Traditionally, Japanese society had clearly defined gender roles which had been strongly influenced by Confucianism until World War II. Except for unpaid labor on family farms, women were generally not supposed to have jobs after marriage. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, gender roles began to shift as Japanese men were away serving in the army while women had to shoulder not only their household duties, but were also required to work in industrial jobs outside of the home. After the war, with the economy bankrupt, Japanese people had lost their faith in social traditions and values, leaving a moral vacuum which created an openness for new ideas. The U.S. American occupiers introduced many reforms to the Japanese society and women were granted rights that were equivalent to those in Western societies. Yet, the post-war years were only a starting point: social change has since been a slow, gradual movement and by no means has Japan reached an equal society. A survey on gender equality, conducted in 2019, showed that the majority of both men and women were convinced that men in general received preferential treatment in society. While attitudes on gendered work duties underwent a considerable change in recent decades, many Japanese women feel the pressure of being a good house wife while struggling to develop their full potential in other spheres of life, such as hobbies or work. However, with rising levels of education, an increasing number of scholars and activists concerned with feminism, as well as an actual need for strong women in the Japanese society, the concept of equality is highly likely to be pushed further forwards.