By Magdalena Osumi
Japan Times, Tokyo.
Women have made significant achievements in all levels of society but “it is equally clear that we are not there yet,” Liberian President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in Tokyo Friday.
Speaking on the first day of the second World Assembly for Women, Sirleaf, who was awarded the prize in 2011 for her work on women’s rights and peace-building, stressed the need to continue tackling all issues hindering women’s participation in society.
Advising that men should observe the movement as an opportunity and investment for the benefit of societal and national prosperity, Sirleaf applauded the men who have worked to help ensure women’s equal rights, opportunities and participation in all fields.
She praised Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment to promoting women’s engagement in society as bringing “focus to discussion on the issues that are often relegated as secondary concern.”
It is “a call to global leaders to act with courage to bring about a change,” she said.
Abe earlier told the conference that the Diet enacted a bill, taking effect in April, to require all companies to draw up and submit a voluntary action plan incorporating numerical targets for promoting the hiring of women and the appointment of females to executive positions.
“This is a step forward to increase the number of women to decision-making positions,” he stressed.
Abe also called on companies to implement policies and measures to provide a sound work-life balance, focusing on efficiency and enabling employees to lead fulfilled lives.
The greatest challenge that Japan is facing is its declining population due to an aging society and falling birthrate, he said.
“The developed nations leading the world in advancing women’s presence in the labor force have a high participation ratio of women and high birthrate,” he added, pointing out that women’s empowerment may be a solution to Japan’s demographic growth.
According to a World Economic Forum study on gender equality, released in October, Japan placed 104th among 142 assessed countries in 2014.
Abe pledged to address this and support female entrepreneurs, saying that the number of enterprises started by women has decreased over the past decade and accounted for less than 20 percent of all startups.
“Empowered women benefit everyone, in Japan and all over the world,” said Marillyn Hewson, the President and CEO of American global aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin.
It’s no secret women are underrepresented in leadership positions and technical fields, she said, lamenting that women’s potential often remained untapped. Referring to her own experience, she said: “I was often the only woman in the room.”
Hewson was last year named the 21st most powerful woman in the world by American business magazine Forbes.
“Leadership from the top management, engagement of women at all levels so they have opportunities to develop their skills, and an environment that fosters success for all” are the three keys crucial to unlocking women’s potential, Hewson said.
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“These are the keys for all of us” to ensure growth, innovation and lasting success, she said.