Japan, Beat by Botswana, Eclipsed by Europe
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) believes that development is ultimately a "process of enlarging people's choices and not just raising national incomes". The UNDP calls this concept human development and since 1990 has ranked between 173-5 countries according to a human development index (HDI). This well recognized index looks beyond per capita income, human resource development and basic needs as a measure of human progress by including factors such as human freedom, dignity and human agency into the assessment. In the 2003 HDI report, Japan fared well overall ranking ninth in the world. However, Europe dominated the rankings claiming six out of the top ten spots and fifteen out of the top twenty. Notably, Norway, Iceland and Sweden claimed the top three spots while countries such as Peru ranked 82nd, the Philippines 85th, Botswana 125th, Egypt 120th and Sierra Leone last.
However, gaining attention in Europe has been Japan's poor performance in the gender rankings. The Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) is one component of the HDI and measures women's participation in the political and economic areas. Noting Japan's embarrassing GEM results, the Financial Times published an article on 9 May entitled, "Japan's gender ranking slips amid rise in slurs on women".
While European countries claimed eight of the top ten spots Japan ranked a stunning 44th. In fact, women in countries such as Botswana (31), the Philippines (35) and Peru (39) faced less discrimination than women in Japan.
This fact is particularly worrisome because Japan has dropped twelve spots since last year. According to Professor Keiko Higuchi, a member of the Japanese Prime Minister's Council for Gender Equality, the shift to the right wing in Japanese politics is to blame (FT article). Shoji Nishimoto, director of the UNDP's Bureau of Development Policy claimed that, "the Japanese work office environment is not yet conducive for promoting gender equality" (FT article).
Japan's poor standing was particularly stark in the political arena. In terms of women's political participation Japan ranked lower than most countries including non-democratic and largely Muslim states. In Japan, women only represent 5.7% at the ministerial level. Egypt (6.1%), Iran (9.4%) and Syria (11.1%) all rank above Japan while countries such as Peru (16.2%) and Botswana (26.7%) eclipse it. In top European countries such as Norway, Iceland and Sweden, women occupy 42.1%, 33.3% and 55% of ministerial posts respectively.
Discrimination against women exists in all parts of the world. However, that the situation for women in Japan has worsened is cause for alarm. That Japan ranks below many non-democratic and largely Muslim populated countries, most often targeted for their gender inequality, in terms of political representation will no doubt come as a surprise to many. And it should, for there is no justification for this discrepancy.
In Japan's case and particularly from the gender perspective, one cannot help but agree with the UNDP's definition of development, which goes beyond traditional indices to include fundamental human rights and freedoms. In this sense, Japan would benefit by following Europe's lead and improving the situation for women. This would not only benefit all Japanese but also situate Japan as a true model for development in the world.