JAPAN - Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is active not only in her capacity as first lady, but also in practicing pesticide-free agriculture and running an izakaya restaurant. The Yomiuri Shimbun has interviewed Akie about her views on women's advancement, which is being promoted by her husband. The following is an excerpt from the interview.
The Yomiuri Shimbun: Mrs. Abe, you are known for leading a life unbound by the conventional norms of being the wife of a state leader.
Akie Abe: I don't think there should be a mould for politicians' wives or for women in general. It would make me happy if other women are encouraged to take a step forward after seeing me breaking the mould as wife of the prime minister.
In September, an international symposium on supporting women's endeavours will be held in Tokyo, sponsored by the government and others. I will attend it and have talks with people such as Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. I will actively exchange views and fully inform [other participants] about a "society where women shine," the goal that Japan should pursue.
Q: Last month, you established "UZU no Gakko," a school that organises panel discussions among experts and other activities to support women who want to make advancements in various fields.
A: Well, before that I had been holding regular meetings with a small number of women on the second floor of the izakaya I have been running since the fall of 2012. I asked women in various positions, including entrepreneurs and students, to gather so that I could listen to what they have to say about how women can advance in society without difficulties. My desire to share information with more women has led me to open the school.
About 100 women participated in the first session, called "Schools," which was centred around education, on July 13. In terms of age, they were from college age to 50 years old. They expressed their views during lively and free discussions, which made me think I was right to hold the session. As far as possible, I would like to continue.
At first, my husband was baffled by my activities. But now he encourages me, saying, "Do whatever you want."
The government has been addressing the issue of gender equality for many years. Rather than leaving it to the government to take measures, it is important for women themselves to have strong awareness about the issue. Using my position as the prime minister's wife, I would like to rally support for as many of the women making efforts as possible.
Q: Prime Minister Abe has urged private companies to promote women to executive positions and implemented other measures, while making the promotion of women's advancement a pillar of the government's growth strategy.
A: An increase in the number of women-by even a small number-in managerial positions at major corporations and important government posts will substantially change the social landscape. The top echelons of major companies were made to think about this issue after the prime minister said he would aim to crate a "society where women shine." There has been a growing sense in women that they might be able to shine. It shows that the public mood can change when a top leader offers direction. If the leadership promoting creation of a society where women shine is occupied entirely by men, such a society will reflect only men's perspectives. So in this regard also, it is an urgent task to appoint women to key positions.
Although women's advancement in society is consistent with the times, I don't think all women should be like men. Women are better at taking care of babies, while doing housework, than men are. Of course, if they go out to work, their husbands must share the housework with them. Men have to change their mindsets.
Working women have restrictions inherent to women. Once they leave work after marriage, childbirth and child rearing, they often find no jobs befitting their capabilities even if they want to return to work. I want the power of women be allowed to be used for the benefit of society.
I want society to be a place where both men and women acknowledge what each can offer, and I hope they will all do well.
Akie Abe, 52, is the eldest daughter of Akio Matsuzaki, former president of Morinaga & Co. When her future husband was serving as a secretary to his father, former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, she met him through an acquaintance. They got married in 1987. Akie, nicknamed "Akkie," has actively supported women's advancement in society, while also engaging in a wide range of social activities, including in the fields of agriculture and social welfare. She has a master's degree from Rikkyo University. She was born in Tokyo.