In November 2017, one woman and her baby brought a Japanese city council to a standstill. Well, I heard shouts. Really loud shouts. One of them was shouting: They said: And I said: Yuka Ogata is an assemblywoman for Kumamoto city. In other words, she’s one of the few Japanese women in a position of leadership. Yuka made headlines on her first day back at work since giving birth. She was kicked out of an assembly meeting for showing up with her newborn baby in her arms. I told them: “Well, I am representing people like me, so I have all the right to be here.” They told me: “No, no, no, they cannot open the session as long as there’s a baby in the chamber.” Over 60% of women in Japan quit their jobs after giving birth to their first child. And employers expect that, which is why they’re less likely to invest in the career development of their women employees. What’s worse? It’s not uncommon for employers to demote or pressure women into quitting as soon as they become pregnant. This is known as matahara, or maternity harassment. Yuka has long fought for women’s rights in the workplace. But most of her proposals, such as having a nursery room built in her workplace, have been vetoed by her city council. And so she took her baby to work to confront her colleagues with the reality of motherhood. I want the people in politics, people in power, to listen to what we are saying. What women have been saying. We are really struggling, and we want to have children, but we can’t. Yuka’s story highlights a larger problem in Japanese society: the failure of Womenomics. In a nutshell, Womenomics is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to save the economy by bringing more women into Japan’s male-dominated workforce. You see, more than a quarter of Japan’s population is over the age of 65. Its population is aging dramatically, to the point where adult diapers are outselling baby diapers. And not enough babies are being born to replace that aging population. That leads to an acute shortage of labor, and ultimately, to economic stagnation. In an attempt to tackle this, the prime minister decided women could fill the labor gap. And he packaged that as an advance for women’s rights. He said he wanted to create a society in which “all women shine.” More women in senior positions, improved maternity leave, etc. But Womenomics has been failing women big time. Instead of uplifting them, it’s exploiting them. Here’s why: See, the number of women workers has actually increased since Womenomics. But in 2018, Japan ranked 110th out of 149 countries in the global gender gap index. And that’s partly because of the quality of the jobs that women are getting: They’re mostly getting part-time jobs without the benefits that come with full-time work. There is more and more part-time jobs for women. Part-time jobs with very low wages and no welfare. So now there are many women who have jobs, but still struggle to make ends meet. There’s another reason why Japan ranks this low in the gender gap index. This is Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet, the people making the nation’s most important political decisions. Now count the number of women. Exactly. The reason why the situation is the way it is now is because there’s very few women in decision-making positions. That’s right: Only 12.4% of lawmakers, senior officials and managers in Japan are women. And it wasn’t until 2015 that large companies were finally required by law to set targets for increasing women in management and to disclose those results to the public. But surprise surprise, there are no penalties if they fail to comply. Is [Womenomics] working from Shinzo Abe’s point of view? Maybe to some extent, because his objective is to raise production. But to me, the government’s plan to make women shine … I guess it’s safe to say, it’s a bit different from what we want. Womenomics was the greatest sign of hope women had seen in years. It meant something profound and unprecedented. Their well-being was no longer a burden, but at last, a national priority. Six years on, there are more women in the workforce, but they’re still losing out. How Womenomics is enforced, or how it affects women doesn’t seem to matter to those who came up with it. In Japan, we have a term … kodakara, which means children are treasures. These days we don’t hear that word anymore. When this is what it’s like to be a working woman in Japan, is it any wonder why they’re still struggling to shine?