"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Speech by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the World Assembly for Women (WAW! 2017)

[Date] November 3, 2017
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional translation
[Full text]

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Japan. As prime minister I welcome you most warmheartedly.

In fact, because Japan held a general election last month, it wasn't clear until just before this conference started whether or not I would be able to attend, but two days ago I was designated prime minister at the Diet. As a result, I have been able to join you today as prime minister, as originally envisioned.

My new Cabinet has made its start and the very first international conference we will participate in is this WAW!.

I hope that through that, you can understand the level of commitment the Abe Cabinet has to enhancing women's participation and advancement in society.

To be candid, in fact the scheduling of this WAW! had been decided quite a while ago, so this being our first international meeting is a fortunate coincidence.

However, the most important thing for a government is "intuition." We decided the dates for this conference in advance as if we had somehow intuited this marvelous timing.

So I would like you to consider this an expression of our strong commitment to enhancing women's participation and advancement in society.

This year's WAW! is the fourth time this assembly has convened. Looking at you from up on this stage, I find all the participants in the audience to be shining so bright, you dazzle the eye. I feel the enthusiasm and upbeat atmosphere intensify with each passing year.

An international conference in which such a tremendous number of women active all around the world meet under one roof has come to be held here, in Japan. I feel very intensely that Japan has really changed.

More than 30 years ago, I worked in New York as a company employee.

While I was there, I was genuinely surprised at the sight of American women in U.S. business circles confidently proving themselves to be contenders entirely commensurate with the men. I remember it like it was yesterday.

After that I dove into the world of politics, but in those days I did not even imagine that male-dominated Japanese society would change to become like the U.S.

Even a mere decade ago, the percentage of women in the Japanese workforce was lower than that of the U.S. for all age groups under age 64. This was the reality.

But since just after I became prime minister five years ago, I have held high the flag of "women's participation and advancement in society" and positioned it in the very center of my Growth Strategy.

I have made all-out efforts to create an environment in which it is easy for women to work, including preparing childcare arrangements.

The result of this has been 1.5 million more women joining the workforce, and in particular, among women in the age group typically raising small children, the labor force participation rate jumped five percent all at once. We are most certainly heading towards eliminating the so-called "M-shaped curve" problem.

And, last year the percentage of women in the workforce finally surpassed that of the United States for all age groups over age 25.

I truly feel deep emotion to think that Japanese society has come to stand shoulder to shoulder with U.S. society, which had been so far in the distance more than 30 years ago.

Japan has changed.

It is possible to change society.

The number of female board members in Japanese companies has more than doubled during these five years.

While it is true that I myself also called on the business community to increase the number of female board members, we also revised the rules, requiring companies to include information in their securities reports on the number and proportion of female board members. By doing so, the actions of companies changed all at once.

And now, as you know, Japanese companies are realizing their highest profits in history. "Womenomics" has become a major force driving Japan's economic growth.

Japan has changed.

Therefore, it should also be possible to change the world.

It was a Japanese woman who sparked a revolution in medical treatment globally by being the first anywhere in the world to succeed in transplant surgery using iPS cells.

Dr. Masayo Takahashi is an ophthalmologist. Over the years, she has had great compassion for the various concerns her patients have. By chance, her partner was a neurosurgeon doing research in regenerative medicine.

Dr. Takahashi linked the knowhow from these two very different fields brilliantly. Using iPS cell technology, she attempted to create a retina for the eye and achieved tremendous success.

She says, "It is there in the gaps that new things are found." Ophthalmologists are unfamiliar with the latest frontiers in regenerative medicine research. Conversely, specialists in regenerative medicine are unaware of the importance of treating retina conditions.

Dr. Takahashi found an answer that brought about innovation there in the "gap" between these two existing research areas.

It seems that at first, the men around her disregarded her research plan. Men focus too much on so-called "common sense." That really pains me too.

I believe that women have the power to break through the walls of "common sense" created by men and carve out a new era.

The same is true in the business world.

New businesses that resolve social issues using sensibilities that men don't typically have.

Businesses that put forth values that have not existed until now, taking advantage of viewpoints particular to women.

I feel that women entrepreneurs are brimming with immense potential that will extricate the economy from a sense of being caught in an impasse and rapidly develop the global economy.

One young female entrepreneur is now working to revolutionize agriculture in Cambodia's fields.

Ms. Lim Porty originally spent her days grappling with Cambodia's poverty issue as a member of an NGO. She worked to assist impoverished farming families.

However, the NGO's activities depended upon the amount of assistance received from donors. As a result, Lim-san made up her mind to participate in a program run in Cambodia by Japan's JICA designed to assist entrepreneurs. After studying marketing, financial management, and other such skills, she started her own business.

It is a business that sells organic vegetables and fruit purchased from 30 Cambodian farming families. Thanks to securing a stable market for their produce, some of the farming families with contracts became able to send their children to school. There were also some people who were able to build a new house. Lim-san's new business displayed substantial power in mitigating Cambodia's poverty.

She says, "Doing a job I love and contributing to society makes me happy."

The attempts being made by women entrepreneurs hold within them the power to dramatically change economies and, indeed, the world.

I think Ms. Ivanka Trump, who is participating in this WAW! today, would agree.

As both a businesswoman who built her own business and as a trusted advisor to President Trump, Ivanka took the lead in launching the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative at this year's G20 Hamburg Summit.

Japan will support this initiative vigorously. As one of its biggest donors, we have taken the decision to provide this initiative with US$50 million in support.

We will expand throughout the world the network for enhancing women's participation and advancement in society. When women around the world rise up, we will surely be able to resolve poverty and various other issues facing the world.

Japan is determined to continue to raise high the flag of enhancing women's participation and advancement in society and demonstrate strong leadership around the world.

It was ten years ago that the iPhone well-known to all of us first came onto the market. And, there are currently a total of one billion iPhones around the world. Ten years ago, who could have forecast that iPhones would globally spread that far and wide?

In only a decade, it is possible to change the world. And maybe even a decade is not necessary.

It will absolutely be possible to realize a society where women shine in every corner of the world, as well as a world in which women become the force that carves out the next generation. I am convinced of that.

Let me recall here the words of Steve Jobs: "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

I think that the participants who have gathered here for this WAW! are people who believe with all their heart that they can indeed change the world.

Let us go out and change the world together!

And, I hope to see you all at this WAW! again next year.

Thank you very much for listening today.