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Women’s participation in the workforce plays a key role in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policy. As such, areas that contribute to this are under scrutiny—women’s health, in particular.

The Healthcare, Government Relations, and Women in Business committees, and the Pharmaceuticals​ subcommittee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) teamed up to highlight this issue at an event on May 17 at Grand Hyatt Tokyo titled, “Enhancing Women’s Economic Participation through Better Health, a Discussion on the Role of the Public and Private Sectors.”

Belén Garijo, CEO and member of the executive board at Merck Healthcare; Akiko Matsumoto, president of the nonprofit organization Fertility Information Network (Fine); and Kiwa Chinen, director of the Women’s Health Promotion Office, Health Service Division of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s (MHLW) Health Service Bureau, spoke to ACCJ members about what must be done to enhance women’s health and, in return, their economic participation.

PRIVATE SECTOR
Merck’s Garijo highlighted the correlation between diversity and revenue as a driving force for the private sector when tackling women’s health issues.

She suggested that more collaboration between the public and private sectors is needed—including increasing competitiveness between the two.

A recurring theme, Garijo observed, is the lack of support for women’s healthcare—in terms of education, paid leave, and financial support—and the need for both the government and private sector to step up. She added that the role of men is key.

Looking specifically at the medical research field, it was explained that not enough is being done, public schemes alone are insufficient, and more private-sector involvement is needed.

One such initiative that needs input from Japan’s private sector is encouraging women in the workplace. Both Matsumoto and Chinen emphasized that nothing will be solved until work–life balance and the lack of women in leadership is addressed.

WOMEN’S HEALTH
Those in different stages of life, such as puberty, child-rearing years, menopause, and old age have different health considerations. Chenin said this needs to be taken into account, along with the differences between men’s and women’s health issues.

She added that the MLHW does have enhanced programs—especially in aiding women and pregnancy. However, she said many women suffer from depression after having children, and the government is looking to provide more support to mothers, including helping women change their circumstances if they need support to raise a child.

Another concern is that Japan is the only advanced country in the world with an increase in HIV diagnoses. Chenin said what is needed are improved preventative measures, support for those already diagnosed, and steps to address stigmas around diseases such as HIV that would prevent women from being tested in the first place.

She said that many women find themselves not going for screenings due to busy work and home lives. A shortage of gynecologists and doctors specializing in female health in Japan makes scheduling even more difficult.

According to Matsumoto, in 2014, Japan saw the highest number of cases of in vitro fertilization (IVF) in the world (393,745 cases). That year, one out of every 21 children were conceived through IVF in Japan.

Matsumoto suffers from infertility and outlined some of the struggles such women face.

Many, she said, do not speak about it; but the physical, mental, financial, and time burdens are serious. One concern she raised is the fear women have of disclosing their treatment. This is especially true at work because they worry about being moved into an easier or lower role.

Matsumoto emphasized the need for education, both at work and in schools, when it comes to conception, pregnancy, and childbirth.

All three women stressed the need to educate both men and women on women’s health issues, and for business leaders in the private sector to play a role.

Maxine Cheyney is a staff writer at The Journal.