“It must not be women who break the bamboo or glass ceiling; it must be companies who remove it,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in Tokyo last month. “Research shows that female presence in leadership strengthens a company’s performance,” she continued, and the necessity of promoting women’s active roles in the workplace is not only moral and ethical, but also “an economic reality.”
The importance of ‘womenomics’ was a major topic of discussion at a recent international conference on women’s empowerment, held in Tokyo September 12-14 as part of the ‘Shine Weeks’ initiative to create ‘A Society Where Women Shine’ in Japan. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka and UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura travelled to Japan to participate in the conference, and took the opportunity to speak out about discrimination facing women in Japan and around the world. Facilitated by UNIC-Tokyo, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka and Ms. Bangura were interviewed by some of the top news agencies in Japan.
Ms. Bangura focused on the major conflict areas around the world today where sexual violence is of particular concern. “Sexual violence is a serious concern in conflict zones in Iraq, South Sudan, Central Africa, and Mali, to name a few examples. We are especially concerned with territories in Iraq and Syria that are ever increasingly being controlled by the Islamic State,” she said.
Furthermore, Ms. Bangura discussed the UN’s role and responsibilities in protecting women from sexual violence in conflict. She stressed the importance of providing both physical and psychological treatment to victims of sexual violence, and the necessity of rebuilding weakened judicial institutions in order to conduct trials of sex offenders.
Ms. Mlambo-Ncguka spoke about UN Women’s plan to open an office in Tokyo in 2015. She indicated that the Tokyo office will help UN Women work more closely with the Japanese government and private sector to eliminate discrimination against women in the workplace. Even though Japan has a major gender gap, “Norms and cultures are dynamic,” she insisted, “especially for younger people who can adopt new attitudes.”
However, Ms. Mlambo-Ncguka emphasized that “Japan is not alone” in needing to adopt special measures in the “ongoing challenge” to increase the participation of women in business and government. She encouraged civil society to play an active role in pushing for concrete measures, such as support for childcare, incentivizing women’s work outside the home, and a possible parliamentary quota system.
Though progress in these areas takes time, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka hopes that Japan will track the effects of its measures so that UN Women can share the information with other countries to promote gender equality worldwide.