TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe named five women to his new cabinet on Wednesday, leading by example in a country economists say must make better use of its highly-educated but underemployed women.
The five make up nearly a quarter of the 18-strong cabinet and come close to matching his declared aim for the percentage of women in senior positions.
"A society in which women shine is one of the big pillars of this government," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference ahead of the announcement.
Abe has repeatedly spoken of the need to get more women into the workforce to plug a growing gap in the labour market.
He has said he wants 30 per cent of senior business and political positions occupied by women by 2020, to mitigate problems caused by an ever-shrinking number of workers who need to provide for a growing number of retirees.
"We have to revise ideas of seeing everything from men's viewpoint," Abe said in a speech earlier this year.
"The most underused resource we have is the power of women," Abe said. "Japan must be a place where women are given the chance to shine." Government figures show only 11 per cent of managerial jobs are occupied by women, compared with 43 per cent in the United States and 39 per cent in France.
The reshuffle, Abe's first since coming to power in December 2012, is seen as partly an exercise in shoring up his power base in the sometimes-fractious Liberal Democratic Party, and partly aimed at re-enlivening a flagging economic and security agenda.
Observers say the LDP, the bastion of age-based seniority that has ruled Japan for most of the last 60 years, is crammed with lawmakers who feel they have served their time on the back benches and deserve a shot at a government job.
Key figures of the administration remained in place, including Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, but the cabinet's lower ranks saw fresh blood.
However, the female appointments - up from two in the last cabinet - marked a shift in emphasis for a body usually dominated by older men, where women frequently appear to be little more than a cosmetic afterthought.