TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s first lady says she has such a busy schedule that sometimes it’s up to the prime minister to do the dishes or take out the garbage.
It’s the kind of flexibility that Akie Abe says is needed for the advancement of women in Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing companies and the government to hire and promote more women to allow Japan’s economy to grow and create a society where “women can shine.” He appointed five women to his 18-member Cabinet on Wednesday.
Even though Akie Abe, 52, openly refers to herself as a member of the “opposition in the household” on some issues her husband favors, such as nuclear energy, she told The Associated Press on Thursday that she is a big supporter of his “womenomics” policy of promoting women’s advancement.
In Japan, women are under-represented in senior-level positions in companies, government or universities. They have long been discriminated against in salary and promotion in corporate Japan, and often face obstacles to pursuing their careers due to a lack of help from spouses.
Abe, the daughter of the former president of a leading Japanese confectioner, Morinaga & Co., said it’s important that society allows women enough flexibility to work again after child-rearing or other life events that interrupt their professional careers.
Her husband’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has conservative views on gender equality, but the first lady is a businesswoman, owns a bar in downtown Tokyo, and supports local artists and craftsmen. She is active in organic farming and grows rice herself in Yamaguchi, her husband’s hometown in western Japan, and campaigns against AIDS and discrimination against minorities.
Next week, she will speak at “The World Assembly for Women in Tokyo,” an international symposium at which she wants to show that Japanese women are also serious about making a society that is friendlier to them.
Such activities, along with her differences with some of her husband’s views, have contributed to her image as a new breed of first lady.
“My husband’s conservative supporters think the wife of a prime minister should keep quiet and support him, so for them my speaking up is unthinkable, but those on the other side of the spectrum say I should speak up even more,” she said in an interview at the prime minister’s official residence.
The first lady said people tend to categorize others, like right and left, west versus east, “or men should be this way and women that way,” creating walls and differences. “I want to tear them down,” she said.
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