By Akane Nakamura, G(irls)20 Delegate, Japan

“A woman should walk three steps behind a man.”

For generations, this saying has shaped the mindset and image that women should be protected and men should take the lead. Sadly, this attitude is still common in Japanese society and it holds girls and women back. As early as the classroom, boys are encouraged to stand out, but girls are not. If this happens in the classroom, what do we expect to happen in the workplace?

(Photo: Pamelajoemacfarlane via Getty Images)

Despite Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s current policy to improve gender equality and build our economy by engaging women, the 2016 Global Gender Gap report ranked Japan 111th out of 144 countries for overall performance in gender equality.

The numbers are even worse for economic participation and opportunity — where Japan fell to 118th from 106th in 2015. The picture is worse when it comes to representation of women in parliament; in 2016, the World Bank reported that the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament in Japan is a mere 10 per cent.

“We need to destroy stereotypes by creating opportunities for young women like me.”

Why is the country sliding backward instead of marching forward? A survey conducted by Japan’s Cabinet Office in 2014, showed that 45 per cent of both men and women think that husbands should work and wives should stay at home. This number speaks for itself and shows why women have little influence in Japan’s political and corporate spheres. So how do we fix this?

It is simple but not easy: we need to change our education system which focuses on getting good grades and revamp it to encourage leadership. We need to destroy stereotypes by creating opportunities for young women like me. Four years ago I volunteered for an organization outside of school and afterwards, I launched a Fair Trade program which is currently part of the English and home economics curriculum.

With this success, I have started delivering workshops to empower students. At the beginning students in my all girls high school were relatively passive, but over time these workshops have proven to inspire my classmates to increase their ambition towards their careers.

If our education doesn’t encourage leadership and if stereotypes continue to shape a distinct gender role in society, how can Japanese women be empowered to achieve gender equality? By fostering leadership and promoting gender equality, Japan can be a society where men and women walk together.