For a long time, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put women’s employment at the centre of his economic policy, but today women are suffering most from the worst recession the country has experienced since World War II.

Thanks to Abe’s campaign, often referred to as feminism, women’s participation in the labour market has reached a ten-year high of over 70%. Tip: Many women do not have a permanent job for men, and more than half of them have vulnerable part-time, contract or temporary jobs.

The number of these irregular workers reached a record high in April and fell by 970,000 to 2.02 million. Women represented 710,000 people.

This makes female employees a buffer for the third largest economy in the world, says Mari Miura, Professor of Political Science at the University of Sofia. Only one in five male workers perform irregular work.

In April, a temporary worker, Miyuki, learned that she would lose her job on an agricultural machinery assembly line at the end of next month, so she resigned to accept another offer. But this work also disappeared, because the coronavirus epidemic destroyed the economy.

Since then, she has found a job in the packaging department of a pharmaceutical company – for half her salary and only until July. She is now waiting for an incentive premium of 100,000 yen (USD 935) from the government and has disposed of her car for cost reasons.

I want to work, said Miyuki, 53, who, like the other employees interviewed, refused to give her last name for reasons of confidentiality. It doesn’t matter that the government talks about financial support, we don’t know how long the coronavirus will last.
The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wears a mask during a plenary session in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wears a face mask during a plenary session in the upper house of parliament in Tokyo

She said she would like to have a more stable job, but added that at my age it might be difficult.

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Single mothers, many of whom live below the poverty line, are having a hard time.

Asami, 32 years old, a single mother in central Japan, lost her job in a plastics factory in April after asking for free time to take care of her sons aged 4 and 1.

It was a major economic shock, said Asami, who has not yet received a request for government payments.

I can’t help it, but I wish the support would be faster and more widespread, Asami said. Since then, she has found a job with an employer that promises more flexibility in childcare.

The soon to be adopted Supplementary State Budget provided for additional lump-sum grants for single mothers, but less attention was paid to the plight of other working women.

Women are seen as an income supplement for men, so even if men lose their jobs, they are seen as their safety net, says Mieko Takenobu, honorary professor at Wako University in Tokyo. Reality is different.

According to experts, government aid channelled through companies to protect jobs and incomes during recessions often does not reach women in precarious positions.

There is a huge gap between regular and irregular workers – those who can work from home and get paid even when productivity drops – and those who are not paid when they are, says Chieko Akaishi, head of the non-profit forum for single mothers.

Abe has ended the state of emergency in the country, but concerns remain and it will take time for the economy to recover.

There will be many more layoffs, according to Naoko Moghi, the founder of a group of single women with a strange job on Facebook.