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The Importance of the Private Sector to the Empowerment of Girls and Women: Observing (From) Japan

Posted: 05/16/2012 5:25 pm

Business community is probably the most vibrant part of the society. Not just in Japan, but probably throughout the world, the economy at all times has led the way. Since the French Revolution to modern-day China, the private sector acted as a forerunner, facilitating democratization and socio-political advancement. In modern times, we frequently hear about the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for sustainable development of communities. This self-regulating mechanism of business community, in time, emerged into a necessary feature of each responsible investment and/or business operation within the respective social and political context. In addition, in a globalizing world, protection of the environment and human rights is unfeasible without corporate involvement and their active social responsibility.

Commonly, corporate social responsibility is perceived in the context of economic intervention of developed in the non-developed and/or under-developed world. When CSR, or absence of it, is mentioned, in the understanding of the general public, it is typically linked to the industrial and/or economic operations in the under-developed parts of Asia, the Amazon or Sub-Saharan Africa with predicaments such as deforestation, environmental depletion and corporate involvement in the collapse of ancient, indigenous socio-economic structures in mind. However, social influence and responsibilities of private sector is significant even in highly developed societies, such as Japan. Naturally, those influences and responsibilities are quite different (if compared with mentioned common perceptions of the CSR) and not without characteristics of their own.

It is no secret that Japanese society is "burdened" by gender-based discrimination and lack of adequate social recognition of girls and women. The situation has considerably improved since WWII and in recent years, yet discrimination is a "tough foe" and it takes a lot of effort to deal with it. Regrettably, it is deeply rooted into Japanese culture and society. Japanese men, by default, earn more that their female colleagues for the same kind of work. Rarely do Japanese women hold executive positions in Japanese companies. Very illustratively is that Japan has never had a female chief executive (i.e. a prime minister) and the Japanese diet could be unmistakably described as a "gentleman's club." One could say that other developed countries like France never had a female chief executive (president) as well. Yet, in the French past, one may find many women that actually shaped national history (Jeanne d'Arc, Madame de Pompadour, Marie Curie, etc.) while, on the contrary, you need to be a true expert in Japanese studies to name at least one historically significant Japanese woman. The cure for this Japanese social "illness" is simple, but probably bitter for some. Japan desperately needs more girls and women in its economy, politics, and culture.

Unsurprisingly, actors from the private sector (at least some of them) were first to thoroughly, in a socially responsible manner, engage in the empowerment of Japanese girls and women. Not because they were suddenly "enlightened," but because it became clear that cultural and gender "diversity" is a comparative advantage. Automotive giant Nissan was among the first to promote diversity, initially as a cooperation necessity, after entering into a business partnership with Renault. Renault, a long-standing European car brand, habitually had already had a significant number of female officers, even a few holding significant executive positions. Diversity motivated by economic goals proved to be commonly beneficial and in 2004, Nissan established the Diversity and Development Office (DDO), tasked to contribute to the promotion of "productive discussions of various opinions and the formation of a stronger and more creative organization." Nissan realized that "60 percent of new car purchases are directly or indirectly affected by women" and that it is quite advantageous to involve women, to the largest extent possible, in planning, designing and producing new car models. Results followed immediately. Nissan's SERENA model "developed by actively incorporating the opinions of women, in particular, mothers with families," was, for three consecutive years, the most sold model.

In addition, within its own ranks, according to the General Manager of the DDO, Ms. Miyuki Takahashi, "Nissan implemented various actions for female workers and career development, including childcare services and telework programs." In Nissan, they believe that "promotion of gender equality takes time, but the realization of gender equality produces comparative business advantages." Furthermore, Nissan's sincere and continuing dedication to the "for the women, by the women" diversity policy was proved not just in Japan, but globally as well. This automobile industry giant, including other high-flying private sector operators, such as Google, Norton Rose and Scotia Bank, is sponsoring the realization of an additional women-empowering event. In a few days, in Mexico City, the G(irls)20 Summit 2012 shall bring together one girl, aged 18 to 20, from each G20 country where they will participate in discussions and workshops, striving to contribute to the promotion of concrete and feasible proposals for economic and political empowerment of girls and women throughout the world. G(irls)20 Summit 2012 is strategically planned just two weeks before the G20 leaders meeting "to look at their agenda through the lens of the economic empowerment of girls and women and the importance of inclusion."

This year's summit participants shall strongly be focused on the opportunity gained in terms of strategically empowering and engaging women in agriculture and the opportunities lost as a result of violence against women. To return briefly to Japan, it should be noted that many countries do not have such a strong industrial base developed (such as Japan). Yet, many have superb natural conditions for development of agriculture. Unfortunately, a significant amount of agriculturally-significant natural resources are not utilized enough and/or are completely unused due to absence of human and intellectual potential that, by default, exists in such countries, but belongs to "the wrong sex." In such a way, by neglecting the significant human and intellectual potential of girls and women, many countries are actually undermining their own progress and neutralize prospects for development. Furthermore, it is clear that social and psychological effects of violence against women inflict tremendous economic costs and that such aggressive forms of behavior have devastating consequences to the overall advancement of respective society. We, at the G(irls)20 Summit 2012, shall do our best to contribute to the debate and resolution of these perturbing issues.

Finally, let me mention that my name is Kaida Tomoko and that I shall be representing Japan at the G(irls)20 Summit 2012 in Mexico. We at the G(irls)20 accept as true that every individual dedicated to progress and empowerment of women and girls has a number. My number is 25,074 and I strongly believe that best thing one could do is to "take a number," and start changing the world!

 
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