Japan is now one of the planet’s most advanced, affluent, and democratic countries. But in one key respect, it has remained stubbornly regressive: Working women in Japan have not had it easy. To a degree that is striking even by the lamentable standards of the United States and much of the rest of the world, they have been kept on the margins of business and politics.

Five years ago, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, vowed to create what he describes as “a society where women can shine.” Rather than open the gates to immigration, an unpopular solution in insular Japan, Abe embraced a plan to ease the way for millions of married and middle-aged women to return to work. The effort, Abe said, was “a matter of the greatest urgency.” The nickname for Abe’s program, “womenomics,” originated with Kathy Matsui, the vice chairwoman of Goldman Sachs Japan.

The correlation between the advancement of working women in Japan and increased development rates follows a simple logic: More working women means more growth, especially in rapidly aging societies, where their participation alleviates the impact of a shrinking labor force. And a more inclusive economy can create ripple effects, expanding the talent pool, forming a more skilled work force and putting more money in the hands of women. In Japan, the ultimate hope was that women would no longer be faced with financial challenges and the cruel choice between remaining single (to pursue a career among men) or having a family (and giving up a career).

Source: NY Times