Concept Notes

A Webinar on Women’s Empowerment~commemorating the memorable year of gender equality and women’s empowerment~

The pandemic of COVID-19 declared by WHO in March 2020 revealed some difficulties that are being faced by economically and socially vulnerable citizens all over the world, including Japan. These people, such as African-American and Hispanic citizens in the United States, refugees and the Roma in Europe, and non-regular employees in Japan are suffering from the pandemic more seriously. In particular, the difficulties that women face due to the pandemic are more serious compared to those men face and will be most likely to further exacerbate the gender inequality that existed even before the pandemic struck.

 In Japan, it is acknowledged that women were more negatively impacted economically from COVID-19 compared to men as they compose the majority of non-regular employees and engage in service industries. By April 2020, the number of employees dramatically decreased, mostly because non-regular female employees were dismissed. Statistics showed that 370,000 male workers lost their jobs while 700,000 female workers lost their jobs. Moreover, as some families largely rely on the money that women bring in from non-regular work, dismissal and suspension from work due to COVID-19 is straining the family budget. Therefore, the lack of employment is not only affecting women. In addition, there are women who are experiencing increasing violence and distress. Those women who cannot see a way out of their hardship are more likely to commit suicide. In 2020, 7025 women committed suicide, a 15.3% increase over the previous year.

The stress and anxiety from the lockdown and dismissals have led to more violence toward women both online and in real life. As the situation is anticipated to deteriorate, actions to address this issue must be taken as soon as possible. Similarly, sexual violence and suppression toward women activists are occurring in conflict areas, and they are likely to increase. Hence, actions to relieve the economic and social damage from COVID-19 must be taken to build and maintain peace.

Many international conferences were planned to be held last year, as it marked the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in the 4th World Conference on Women as well as the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (Women, Peace and Security). Last year’s sporting events, such as the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games, had to be postponed or even canceled due to COVID-19. While the lockdown and our self-restraint continue and a new lifestyle being introduced, it is necessary to seize the current situation as an opportunity for positive innovation and to build a post-COVID19 society where no generation or gender is left behind.

At this webinar, keeping in mind that 2020 was a memorable year, we are going to discuss three main topics on gender equality, all of which have been challenges even before COVID-19. They are:

With a goal of reviving our economy while building a peaceful society where everyone feels at ease and can live comfortably, we will discuss what should be done from the perspective of the empowerment of women and the participation of women in peacekeeping/peacebuilding.

Panel Discussion 01

Empowered Women as a Driving Force for a Betterment of Society

The Leaders of the 2014 G20 Summit in Brisbane declared the Brisbane Goal, which aims to reduce the gap in labor force participation between men and women by 25% by 2025 in each country. Having set this goal, the Osaka G20 Summit, chaired by Japan, confirmed that the Leaders would exchange their respective progress towards the Brisbane Goal in the future. The Leaders at the G20 Osaka Summit also welcomed the launch of the private-sector alliance for the Empowerment and Progression of Women’s Economic Representation (EMPOWER). We can see that those measures and activities are actually increasing the number of women in decision-making positions around the world.

It’s known that companies with more women leaders are more likely to have an improved working environment, which then attracts capable employees. In addition, diversity in the workforce, the reduction of long hours and incidents of harassment, and flexible work styles, are considered important for the sustainable development of companies. As a result of recent actions taken by the government and private companies to enhance women’s empowerment, the number of employed women reached approximately 30 million in Japan, which is about 44% of the total labor force. The labor force participation rate of working mothers increased to 77.4% in 2020 from 67.7% in 2012. However, as more than half of the women work as non-regular employees, they have had no protection against layoffs, suspension, or reduced work hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, looking at the percentage of women in management positions in private companies, the number of women that are higher than director level is less than 10.1% and those in listed companies is 6.2%. The goal of the “30% Club” started in the UK in 2010, was to raise the percentage of women in management positions of private companies to 30%, and they succeeded. The percentage of women in managerial roles in companies in the FTSE 100 Index (London Stock Exchange) grew from 12.6% to 30.6% in 2018. Institutional investors also support the increase of women in management positions through ESG investment. In May 2019, Japan launched its own “30% Club” with the goal of women comprising 30% of the members of the board of directors of TOPIX 100 Index companies (Tokyo Stock Exchange) by the end of 2030.

As for the next mission, companies need to place more women in managerial roles as research shows that such firms become more profitable. It is becoming increasingly important to empower women as the driving force of the economy and to revive the economy as we move toward the post COVID-19 era. How can we attain a more livable society where no one is left behind, where productivity is enhanced and men and women share the unpaid labor at home, such as chores, parenting, and elder care? Women’s empowerment is essential not only to a thriving economy, but also in politics and society. As the economy is closely intertwined with politics and society, they must be fully coordinated so we can build back better in the post-COVID-19 era.

Discussion Topics

  • What influence has COVID-19 had on gender and on generations? What are the causes?
  • What are some improvements in the change of work style and new lifestyles?
  • What are the obstacles to building a better society from the aspect of gender equality?
  • In order to further foster the participation of women in economic activity, what are the problems that private companies find difficult to address by themselves?
    And what can the public sector do to overcome those difficulties?
  • How can we achieve a society that is more livable for both men and women, and that empowers women, in the era of COVID-19?
Panel Discussion 02

Women’s Empowerment in Sports

The COVID-10 pandemic, which forced abrupt changes to our lifestyles, has made people recognize the importance and pleasure of playing sports. In addition, the opportunity to engage in sports is expanding via new methods created through enormous ingenuity. Meanwhile, athletes who are raising children face the difficulty of balancing their training and household responsibilities during lockdown.

Recently, myriad problems relating to the environment of female athletes are surfacing. For example:
(1) the under-investment in youth sports, facilities, and professional leagues
(2) the lack of female coaches and women in managerial roles
(3) wage gap between female and male athletes
(4) sexual harassment, violence, abuse of photographs and videos of female athletes
Last year, the Japan Olympic Committee and other sports organizations listened to female athletes describe how they had suffered from abuse through photographs and videos. In response, they issued a statement to prevent abuse of female athletes using sexual photographs, videos, and writing on the internet.

In the world of sports, the lack of women in decision-making roles is regarded as problematic. In recognition of the low number of women in coaching and management positions in sports organizations, the Japan Sports Agency introduced the “Sports Organization Governance Code” in 2019 to guide sports administrations. The Code set a goal of women comprising 40% of the total number of directors and specifies a clear path to achieve this goal. This fulfills the philosophy of the Olympic Charter: the equality of gender.

Women are often restricted from playing sports because of their country, culture, and security situation. The “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” that started in 2015 states that sports is a key factor to sustainable development and contributes to the empowerment of women. For the upcoming Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games, the Government of Japan is implementing an international collaborative project called “Sports for Tomorrow,” which aims to promote the Olympic-Paralympic movement and the value of sports to all generations around the world to bring about a better future. By September 2020, approximately 12.2 million people from 204 countries and regions have participated in the project. The project is also working on improving female athletes’ environment and supporting their participation. Furthermore, under the framework of the Sports Ministers’ Meeting with ASEAN countries since 2017, the project prioritizes women’s empowerment in the field of sports. The private sector is also working on several activities. The Women Empowerment League (WE League), a professional women’s football league in Japan playing its opening game this year, will tackle the problem. With the empowerment of women both in Japan and in the region as its goal, it provides support to enhance capacity building in ASEAN and other countries by dispatching coaches and specialists.

Encouraging women and girls to engage in sports not only promotes their health and physical abilities; moreover, it empowers them. Sports foster their leadership skills and increase their self-confidence. Our discussion needs to center on what actions are required to address the gap between men and women and to achieve gender equality in sports.

Discussion Topics

  • What is required to create an environment that is comfortable for female athletes?
  • What obstacles keep women from proactively engaging in sports?
  • What actions are needed to get women into decision-making or leadership roles?
  • How can media, companies, and supporters of athletes promote gender equality in sports?
  • What are some creative ways to tackle the difficulties female athletes face during the pandemic?
    What improvements can be made?
Panel Discussion 03

What is “Women, Peace and Security”?

Many women and girls worldwide suffer from various types of violence and abuse, including physical, sexual, economical, and psychological abuse. There are reports that the number of gender-based violence (GBV), including domestic violence, has increased due to the stay-at-home orders and lockdowns because of the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. GBV is indeed occurring not only in Japan and western countries, but also in other nations. Especially in developing countries and countries experiencing conflict, where human rights abuses include violence against women, the deterioration of security situation has cast a shadow over not just the household, but the work of building a peaceful community and nation.

UN Woman has statistics that show that peace is maintained longer when women are more involved in the peacebuilding process, such as in the military, police, and parliament decision-making, than when women are less involved. Studies suggest that the tendency of women to choose a non-violent approach is the key to the more sustainable peace. Therefore, it is essential to include women’s perspectives in all phases of conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and peacebuilding activities after conflict. In this context, in 2000, UN Security Council Resolution 1325: Women Peace and Security (WPS) was adopted unanimously. In response, individual governments and the international community have made efforts to create a more feasible environment for women to engage in peace and security issues as well as advance their involvement in the security sector. In the context of WPS, Japan is also building on these efforts by working to advance women’s participation in disaster prevention and response due to its disaster-prone nature.

WPS is not such a familiar acronym or concept in Japan, but UNSCR 1325 has been a vital resolution for the international community to build world peace for more than 20 years since its adoption. The resolution, by its nature, also requires concrete action to be taken by member states. Today’s session will help attendees learn about gender-based violence against women in various counties and harness their empathy and sense of sisterhood to tackle this together as a common issue. At the same time, this session also aims to explain that women and girls are not only the passive victims of conflict, but as the resolution states, women also should play an essential role in peacebuilding with their activities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and to participate in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Let us support them, regardless of our different backgrounds or locations. Governments alone cannot achieve peace, but as a civil society working together with experts and complementing each other, we can make the world a better place.

The expert panelists will discuss questions below, and what each of us can do to support women peacebuilders—and even how to become peacebuilders ourselves—in order to realize the core agenda of UNSCR1325.

Discussion Topics

  • How has the spread of COVID-19 changed women’s situations in conflict-affected countries in the context of WPS?
  • What efforts has the government of Japan made to promote the WPS agenda and to help international societies, international organizations, and NGOs?
  • What are good practices and efforts in host countries regarding the WPS agenda?
  • What roles should be played and what efforts should be made by governments, international organizations, NGOs, and civil society to overcome the difficulties and advance the WPS agenda together?