Big in Japan? Not if you’re a Woman


Courtesy: Businessweek

While women around the world are governing countries, leading central banks, running companies and coaching tennis stars, in Japan they’re being subject to sexist taunts from the Dark Ages.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to increase access to the country’s notoriously inadequate daycare facilities, extend maternity leave and encourage companies to name female board members in a highly publicised campaign against gender inequality. But these remain well-intentioned proposals at best, undermined by a deep-rooted patriarchy and a widely held notion that a woman’s place is at home, raising kids in her geta sandals.

Last week, these traits were on display for all to see, as Ayaka Shiomura, a Tokyo assemblywoman, was reduced to tears by the jeering of her male colleagues when she called on the local government to assist women with child rearing and to fund infertility treatments. Her crime? Being single and childless.

Japan’s male leaders have a long history of sexism, calling women baby-making machines and labeling career women selfish for delaying childbirth and undeserving of pensions. Even in companies, women are expected to serve the tea at meetings, no matter their position.

Japanese men are clearly oblivious to just how badly they need women to take on more jobs and be more involved in governing. Japan ranks behind Saudi Arabia in the proportion of women in parliament, according to a gender-gap report by the World Economic Forum. Its working-age population is set to shrink by almost half by 2060. Japan’s GDP could rise by as much as 13 percent by closing the gender employment gap, according to a Goldman Sachs report.

Criticising an assemblywoman in a public meeting for her choices is hardly assuring. Japanese men may try leaning in a bit. 

Forget the Nukes, We Need to Talk About Our Women


Courtesy: ctvnews

There was much excitement this week on South Asia as the newly-crowned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Modi, who won the election with the largest mandate in 30 years, took the unprecedented step of inviting Sharif to his inauguration, and much to everyone’s surprise, Sharif accepted the invitation.

That India and Pakistan are unfriendly neighbours, everyone knows. They’ve sparred over everything from cricket to their nuclear arms and even their mangoes. While improved ties between the two countries, which have been to war thrice since 1947, is undoubtedly desirable and crucial to peace in the region, what’s missing on any checklist is steps to improve the status of women in both countries.

In the same week that the two leaders held their ground-breaking meeting, a pregnant woman was stoned to death outside a court in Lahore for marrying a man of her choice, while in India, two teen-aged girls were gang-raped and hanged from a tree in a village in Uttar Pradesh state. Sharif has condemned the incident in Pakistan; there is no official response yet from Modi.

The two countries have a combined population of 1.4 billion. They have similar languages and cuisines, share customs and traditions, and a love for music, movies and cricket. They are also alike in treating their womenfolk badly. While the two countries have had a woman prime minister each and women in senior government positions, both rank low on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report: India at 101 and Pakistan at 135, one notch above the bottom and lower than their other neighbours. While Pakistan fares poorly on all four metrics, both countries do particularly badly on Economic Opportunity and Opportunity and Health and Survival.

So while it is indeed important that the two prime ministers talk about terrorism, it is also equally important that they talk about the status of women in their countries, and what they can do to improve their lot. That would be truly ground-breaking.

The Big, Fat, Gender-Biased Indian Election


Via: WSJ

You may have heard the numbers: 815 million voters; 543 lawmakers; 9 rounds of voting in the world’s largest democracy. You also know who’s projected to win: the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party led by divisive leader Narendra Modi, with the ruling Congress party set for its worst performance ever.

What you probably haven’t heard is how skewed India’s voter gender ratio is: 883 women voters per 1,000 male voters. Give or take. That’s an improvement from 715 per 1,000 male voters in the 1960s, according to data compiled by Shamika Ravi and Mudit Kapoor, professors at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. But it is lower even than the national gender ratio, embarrassing as it is, of 940 women per 1,000 men.

How has this come about? Not for want of legislation. Indian women were granted the right to vote and run in elections three years after India’s independence in 1947, the same year as men. Women have played a significant role in Indian politics down: from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to present-day chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa Jayaram.

Still, India’s largely patriarchal tradition and cultural mores that require women to acquiesce to the opinion of men has meant that women have often not been a part of the political conversation, or showed up to vote on election day. That has also resulted in very few women lawmakers: of nearly 5,000 lawmakers across the country, less than 10 percent are women.

While the Indian government did implement a law in 2009 that mandated the reservation of at least half the seats at panchayati raj or local government institutions in villages and districts for women, it has dragged its feet on the Women’s Reservation Bill. The bill proposes to amend the Indian Constitution to reserve a third of all seats in the lower house and all state legislative assemblies for women, and has not been passed by the lower house after the upper house passed it in 2010.

India ranks 101 out of 136 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 global gender-gap index that examines economic participation, education, health and political empowerment. That is the lowest ranking among the BRIC economies, and is lower than Botswana and Bangladesh.

In this election, the year-old Aam Admi Party has the highest percentage of women candidates, about 15 percent, while the Congress has 12 percent and the BJP has 9 percent. That doesn’t bode well for the future of women’s representation in India.

A Bank of Women, by Women, for Women


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week opened the first branch of the Bharatiya Mahila Bank (Indian Women’s Bank) in Mumbai, which will employ only women, and accept deposits from and lend mostly to women.

Importantly, this bank will have branches in smaller towns and villages where its services are most required. And while men may also operate accounts here, the focus will be on women, and making educating women financially-aware.

Why a bank – primarily – for women? Only 26 percent of women in India have an account in a financial institution – be it a bank, a credit union, a post office or a microfinance institution – compared with 46 percent of men, according to a study by the World Bank. 

Financial inclusion is a big challenge in many developing countries where barriers to opening a bank account or taking a loan include physical distance, lack of documentation and high costs; only 35 percent of Indians have access to banking services compared to a global average of 50 percent, and a developing-nation average of 41 percent, according to World Bank data.

In India, even as more women are getting an education and jobs, millions still have no access to basic financial services and are reduced to being dependent on their fathers or their husbands to manage their money. At the same time, some of the top private banks, from ICICI Bank to HSBC Plc and JP Morgan in India have women CEOs. 

Microfinance institutions and self-help groups have done much to improve access to financial services for women, as have the advent of mobile phones and the rollout of India’s unique identification system. Simply setting up a bank of women will not solve entrenched social issues and traditions which continue to favor men. But it is a start, and much like India’s popular ladies’-special-trains, the bank may lower the barriers for women in a deeply patriarchal society.

Fading Opportunities for Women in the Land of the Rising Sun


I am just back from a vacation in Japan (highly recommend it), where I was as struck by the cutting-edge technology in everything from toilets to trains and the wondrous aesthetic sense of shop assistants and chefs alike, as I was by the appalling gender gap.

Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy (overtaken by China in 2010, in case you missed it), is the world’s most rapidly aging advanced country, with also the widest gender gap among developed countries. This is not something to be proud of; yet, one leader after another, one CEO after another, has failed to address the issue, to Japan’s great detriment. 

Global female labor-force participation has stalled at about 50 percent for two decades, according to a report in September from the International Monetary Fund.  More than half the nations in East Asia and the Pacific have restrictions on the types of jobs women can do, according to the World Bank. Failure to integrate women fully into the workforce is costing the Asia-Pacific region about $89 billion a year in unrealized output, according to the United Nations. 

Japan’s 63 percent of women in the workforce is comparable more to developing countries, and most women are confined to lower-paying and lower-rung jobs. Even in fancy offices, women until very recently were required to serve tea to their male colleagues and  having a baby is a sure route to career-wilderness, as there is little by way of public daycare, and hiring a nanny is an expensive process.

Christine Lagarde, among the most high-profile women in the world as managing director of the IMF, has made it something of a personal crusade to call out countries on their female participation, and in asking them to report on gender issues. In a paper last year called ‘Can Women Save Japan’, the IMF highlighted the many hurdles to working women in Japan, and suggested ways to remove them – primarily, with policies to reduce the gender gap in work and better support for working mothers. The economic outlook for Japan would be much brighter if more women joined the labour force, it said.

In April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced measures to elevate the role of women, calling for women to fill 30 percent of senior positions across different parts of the society by 2020 and vowing to eliminate waiting lists for childcare and provide training for mothers returning to work. While Sony, Hitachi, Toshiba and Daiwa have all recently pledged to increase the number of female managers significantly in the coming years, Japan resolutely refuses to mandate quotas for women in the government or in company boards. The sun may well be setting, and quickly.  

Mind the Gap. Your Fortune Depends on it.

Just a few surprises in the latest Global Gender Gap Report, 2013 released by the World Economic Forum. For the fifth straight year, Iceland tops the list and is followed by its Nordic peers Finland, Norway and Sweden. The surprise is in No. 5: the Philippines. It’s the only Asian country to make the Top 10, and handily beats mightier rivals from Germany to the UK. The U.S. is a distant No. 23, in case you were wondering.

The Philippines has steadily climbed up the ranks: in 2010 it was ranked No. 9 on the index that measures the gap between women and men in terms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The country is the only one in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap in both education and health, the report said.

Much of the improvement can be attributed directly to President Benigno Aquino, who has appointed women in top posts from chief justice to chief tax collector in a bid to end corruption. He has even taken on the Catholic Church to push through legislation to allow free access to contraception as he seeks to reduce poverty.


Today, Chief Justice Maria Sereno and the gun-toting head of the Bureau of Internal Revenue Kim Henares, are household names in a country whose most famous – ok, notorious – woman was known only by the extent of her shoe collection.

It’s not all good news, though. While the gender gap narrowed slightly across the globe in 2013, with 86 of 133 countries showing improvements, “change is definitely slow”, the report said. And as for why closing the gender gap is important: it is not only a matter of human rights and equity; it is also one of efficiency.

Little wonder then, that the Philippine economy is growing at more than 7 percent annually – second only to China in the region – and the country has been awarded its first investment-grade rankings by all three ratings agencies this year. Philippine women can take some credit for that.

Credit where it’s due: Anne-Marie Slaughter

Critical, us? Yes. Absolutely. All the time.

Case in point: we flagged this piece in the Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter on what Obama doesn’t get about gender inequality with no small degree of snark:

And then we were completely taken aback (positively so) when Slaughter replied to and engaged with us:

And then she updated the Atlantic piece to reflect the conversation. Examples in bold:

Equal pay for equal work certainly remains an issue for women, particularly women of color, but white women who do not have children earn the same or more than men.

One step at a time.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Charmaine Joseph

This week’s Colourful Woman feature showcases Charmaine Joseph.  Charmaine is an Atlanta-based Marketing & Sales Coordinator for corporate apparel agency, The Gingerich Group.  She is also the co-owner of a socially conscious t-shirt line: Global Warming. Charmaine partnered with Social Media maven, Lauren Shirreffs, and together they created t-shirts that touch on different issues from stereotyping, bullying, racism, body image, etc.

Our concept was to create “walking billboards,” these shirts are text based with pointed messages that are meant to educate, enlighten or provoke dialogue at a glance.

Recently, Global Warming started an initiative called “Global Change.” For this project they team up with different schools and have classes create designs on varied topics and then choose a winning design and have proceeds from the t-shirt sales go towards their charity of choice.

It’s very refreshing to go into classrooms and hear students talk about their visions for their designs and hear the passion that comes from their own life experiences, whether it be racism, bullying, body image etc.

The Global Change initiative’s winning design for Anti-Bullying. On sale at from November 1st.
designer: Martin Kondrat / The Academy of Design.

What makes you a “colourful woman”?
I have to take this very literally when you say “colourful woman”!  I actually think it may just be appropriate to insert a photo from my wedding here, the photo really says it all.  I may just be the most colourful person I know (laughs).  I actually gave my bridesmaids little Kate Spade coin purses that said “Live Colourfully”…it’s definitely my life theme.

Who or what are some of your colourful inspirations?
I’m not sure if it is part of my Caribbean roots, but of course it’s a possibility having family from Barbados and growing up seeing the vibrant costumes for carnival, and that rich aspect of our heritage.  Then there are the tropical flowers, the sea etc. Being nurtured in such a vivacious environment has a great impact.

What message would you like to share with our readers today?
Be the best version of you. Don’t get caught up in someone else’s definition of success, beauty, love, or happiness. As Lauryn Hill once said, “God made us all different, on purpose.” I think our differences make us beautiful so just learn to love your shortcomings, your imperfections, your struggle, because they all add to the masterpiece. A painter mixes colours before they touch the canvas, nothing and nobody is perfect.

The Ominous Hijab Part II

I ventured into this topic a few months ago here, when I visited my boyfriend’s homeland of Turkey, for 2 months.  In that time, my boyfriend became my fiance, hosts became family and, well, the entire trip was pleasantly hijacked.

In the weeks that ensued however, I did manage to do what I set out to do: spend time in Turkey’s capital, drive along the coastal towns, and reaching as far south as the city of Izmir, and ending of my whirlwind tour in Istanbul.  What I found pertaining to the hijab was little short of disappointing.

I still haven’t been able to engage with much of the pro-hijab audience, only with my peers who seem adamant that it not only comes from an archaic mindset, but that it is very much anti-Turkish.  This harmless piece of cloth seems a strong point of contention not only from a feminist perspective, but from a political one as well.  And since being an outsider, I could only go on the sometimes biased opinions of my guides, I had to maintain a polite distance from adopting these beliefs.

However even in my own observations, it was hard to deny that within the intellectual and middle to upper class world, the hijab was truly found few and far between.  Through my exploration of the countryside, stopping in villages to get gas, food etc., I did notice that something as seemingly harmless as knee-length shorts and sleeveless tank tops did gather me stares.  I am not sure if they were simple suspicion or judgement, but when they came from women covered head to toe in 40 degree celsius weather, I couldn’t help feeling guilty of something.

At one point, visiting the market and bazaars of Izmir, a city strongly loyal to the old rule under Ataturk, there was a strong air of modernism and progression.  Muslims were very proud to be Turkish, and were very clear to highlight that the two were not the same.

My personal views on the hijab still have not been swayed, only moreso affirmed, so I am not left with much to say, but I took some photos while I was in the Izmir bazaar.  It shows two clothing stores, side by side.  One is selling current demure clothing for the muslim woman who chooses to cover herself, and the other sells beautiful and vibrant traditional Turkish dress hailing from yesteryear.

I think they describe the state of flux that the hijab has created in Turkey, far better than I ever could.

Modern vs. Traditional attire

Contrasting storefronts in an Izmir bazaar

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Lindsay Hall

This is the second in our “Colourful Woman Wednesday” series, which will feature stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via Tumblr,Twitter or Facebook.

Lindsay HallLindsay Hall is a brilliant, young dancer who recently finished a series of performances with the J CHEN PROJECT in NY. She is currently working with a new company called Liberation Dance Theater.

Born in Canada but raised in Tobago, Lindsay’s style of dance is an elegant but seductive mash-up of influences. Trained in Ballet and Modern from the age of 5, Lindsay grew up in Tobago where she was surrounded by Caribbean rhythms, Folk dances, and Dancehall. In May 2011 she became the first Tobagonian to graduate from The Ailey School’s Certificate Program in New York. While in New York Lindsay has been honoured with full scholarships to attend both the Ballet Hispanico Summer Intensive and the Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts. She has had the great fortune of working with some amazing choreographers, including Darrell Grand Moultrie, Earl Mosley, Robin Dunn, Andrea Miller, Peter London, Francesca Harper, Bradley Shelver and Kevin Wynn.

When asked why she is a Colourful Woman, Lindsay said this;

Lindsay Hall I am mixed in every sense of the word. I am of different races and different countries (Black/white and Trinidadian/Canadian) and my influences and interests are just as varied. When I was younger and I met other people who were one race and from one place, I thought their lives must be so much simpler, not having to constantly explain where they are from and why they look the way they do, or (like in my case) why they have a Canadian accent but say they grew up in Tobago. But now that I am older (and I would like to think wiser as well!) and I am delving more and more into the dance world, I realize how unique my story is, and that I can use my background and my story in my dancing. I can embrace my story and not feel so bothered if I have to explain why my hair is the way it is or why I have freckles but my skin is brown.

I am colourful because I have embraced ME. Performing has given me the confidence to express myself in a way that we generally do not do in every day life. While I dance, I face people and I am not afraid to show them who I am: honestly and whole heartedly. Who I am is someone who may be compliacted (which I have learned is ok), full of surprises and not easily figured out in one glance, and I kind of like that idea!’

Check out Lindsay’s Youtube channel to see her in motion!