September was an extremely busy month for Ms. Kamikawa Yoko. Less than a week after becoming Japan’s first female foreign minister in almost two decades, she flew to New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly and met with 16 leaders and foreign ministers over the course of just 5 days. A very busy agenda for the biggest surprise of the Japanese cabinet reshuffle, which took place last September 11th and saw Kamikawa take the place of the previous foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
This ministerial reshuffle saw Prime Minister Fumio Kishida appoint five women to his cabinet last month. A move that many saw as an attempt to boost his poor approval rating, currently standing at 33%, the lowest value since he took office in October 2021. Regardless of the intentions behind this choice, it is true that it represents a small but important step towards a more relevant female representation in Japanese politics (before that, only two out of 19 cabinet members were female) and in society in general.
The government’s pledge is to promote women as a core pillar of a “new form of capitalism“. However, for Japan to catch up on women’s equality, there is a “long road ahead“, as quoted by Kamikawa during her inaugural press conference on September 14. Statistics support this statement: despite an increase by 1.22 million in the number of working women compared to five earlier, Japanese women still earn 75% less than men. Additionally, despite evidence showcasing that Japanese companies that have more female directors tend to beat their peers in terms of stock market performance, in 2022 women accounted for only 15.5% of director roles at Japan’s largest companies.
A “long road ahead” might sound intimidating, but Kamikawa’s meetings with G7 foreign ministers represented a promising initial stride in the right direction. By nurturing trust with fellow foreign ministers, including female counterparts from nations such as France, Germany, and Canada, Kamikawa’s efforts lay the groundwork for potential collaborations that could significantly advance gender equality within Japan.