By: Lemya Ayub
H.E. Ambassador of Japan to Iraq, Mr. Kazuya Nashida
It is 2:00 pm Monday afternoon. I have been preparing my questions and kind of know what to expect, however, I am also slightly nervous at the time frame of the meeting, simply because there are so many things that I want to achieve with this interview, not least build awareness in Japan for the work Nina is doing.
The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gone on the record to state his commitment to women’s empowerment within the post-2015 development agenda. This alongside other key initiatives (more on those later), meant I really was keen to understand Japan’s vision for building GDP by fully mobilising its women also. I am hoping for insights, as well as a sense of the drive for change that has emerged from Japan to be reflected in our interview today.
I am ushered into Mr. Kazuya Nashida office by first secretary Ms Kazuko Hikawa, who then joins us also. The office is opulent and very formal – it is clear however, that despite this formality his Excellency truly wants to engage. It seems as though he is almost as excited by this opportunity to connect as I am!
1. Japan and Iraq have a long history of co-operation, with Japan being a good friend and supporter to Iraq over a long time-frame. Iraqi people admire and respect Japan in terms of culture and development. What do you see the future benefits of this special relationship being as it evolves, and what is the Japanese perception of Iraq?
There is no denying that this country has great potential, including its obvious natural resources like oil and gas. However, I can say that I find my job very challenging at times. The consecutive wars Iraq has experienced – and the conflict that still exists – have been truly devastating. I see this particularly in terms of infrastructure, when compared to Asian countries. However, these challenges also present an opportunity. I personally want to harness this and find way to drive rebuilding through Japan-Iraqi co-operation.
I have been truly impressed by the warm welcome I have received. This reflects the point you make that that most Iraqi people are fond of Japanese people and our culture. Our technology is often a particular talking point. In terms of the Japanese perception of Iraq, the ISIS crisis has meant that the significant attention Iraq gets from the international community is increasing, this is reflected in our country too. Iraq has Tokyo’s full attention, which can be helpful to my job.
2. Japan’s first lady Akie Abe is a huge supporter of her husband’s policy of “womenomics”. How important is her support and why?
Before I came to Iraq, my role required me to be working quite closely with Mrs Abe. I can therefore say with conviction that not only is she a strong supporter of her husband and his policies, she is also an ambassador for cultural interaction and diversification in her own right. It is worth noting that she is quite young compared to her predecessors with an outgoing personality. This is attractive to Japanese people and that helps build her husband’s popularity also.
3. Japan has ageing workforce, Iraq is a young population (Youth make up 62.8% of Iraq’s population and almost 1 million of them (aged 15-24), with severe youth unemployment. Do you think that despite these obvious differences there are enough similarities and knowledge share opportunities around Women’s Economic Empowerment to benefit both countries?
Generally speaking if you have a young population this will be the driving force of an economy. On the other hand, as in our case, 25%, of the population are 65 years +. In fact, we estimate that over the next 20 years this will increase to 30 %, so in effect one third of population will be over 65 years old! Based in general economic terms then the economy of our country will be destined to shrink. We therefore need to take very specific measures to ensure we are able to combat this.
Other than the age demographic, another key challenge is that our market is not open to foreign workforce. I’m not saying it’s totally closed, but we do have issues, particularly in terms of welcoming in low-skilled labour. We need a labour force, capable of helping Japan fullfil its potential.
On that note, we are also working hard to create a more positive internal environment for our women. Our job market must enable women to achieve a more manageable work /life balance, whilst ensuring current opportunities are also more aligned to inclusive needs.
It is also worth noting that the Japanese Government’s maternity provision is very positive. This means that women tend to prefer to work in the public sector. However, the private sector is larger, more competitive and with wider opportunities. Bringing women and the private sector together in a vibrant, inclusive labour market relationship is therefore important to all parties.
4. That is an important point you make and ties in to our experience in Iraq. For example, the perception in Iraq, especially amongst its women is that the public sector provides a more stable environment – as well as a more secure work environment also.
Japan faces very similar issues. One thing is clear, we must use government jobs to set best practice guidance; modelling equal opportunity by answering the necessary requirements to drive inclusion and participation (flexible working for example).In this way we model solutions for the private sector. I do know that we are having some success in this; we have, for example, seen significant increases in the numbers of women promoted in a variety of public sector roles.
5.The importance of education…. Even though Japanese women graduates are among the best qualified in the world, they face huge discrimination in the workforce. Do you see any parallels here, between Iraq and Japan?
This is not an easy question to answer. Equal opportunity employment law in Japan gives equal status, however, in reality in our Ministry for example we have to be available 24/7 to respond to emergencies; even those from overseas. The last twenty years have certainly seen significant changes in labour practices as related to women. For example, even ten years ago Japanese women would never stay at work overnight. Now this is quite usual, with most work teams being made up of men and women.
However, some might say this also brings negatives with it. We used to treat women more kindly and encourage them to go home early, but now, in the spirit of full equality, women must meet the same work obligations as men. There has been legislation that protects maternity rights. I think it is very positive that this law includes paternity rights also, with men now having the right to stay at home and take care of kids for a certain period of time.
I must add though, irrespective of gender, Japan promotes a culture of hard work. Essentially the longer and harder you work in Japan, the more valued you are.
Ms. Kazuko Hikawa, First Secretary wanted to share her perspective also, as a Japanese woman working in the public sector:
First Secretary Kazuko Hikawa
I think we as women cannot have everything. When a woman wishes to establish a family and have kids, she will not be able to fulfil all her professional dreams. It will be much harder to climb the professional ladder and get promotions. It’s a social problem as well, which goes back to the point his Excellency made about the nature of our Japanese work culture.
6. How important are Iraq’s natural resources to building a positive post-conflict future, what experience has Japan had in terms of rebuilding?
Drawing comparisions between Japan and Iraq is not easy; you have a lot of resources. But in reality some of these resources are not being utilised in an efficient manner. One just needs to look at the wastage around looks associated gas and the import of gasoline, which is due to lack of refineries. Iraq also needs more facilities to utilise the oil reserves underground. There is so much that needs to be done – and not only in gas and oil production!
I personally believe that Iraq has significant potential. Working effectively with other countries will stimulate the development of oil production is required, but will also improve the administration. The number of civil servants is crippling and collective energy should be focussed on transitioning some of this public sector labour force into the private sector.
It is worth noting that post-war Japan had no natural resources. We needed to find alternatives and technology proved to be our way forward. We benefitted from support from the US also, which helped us rebuild our nation. This progressive, proactive approach to technology meant that 20 years on from the war we were lauded as one of the world’s most advanced economies in terms of technology. However, as with all things, rapid growth can go the other way also. We dealt with subsequent years of economic constraint by reducing the number of ministries and privatising some of our major companies such as National Railway and Japan Tobacco. Other state owned companies that dealt with key commodities such as such as wheat, sugar and salt were also privatised. This policy of privatisation has made our economy stronger and more sustainable.
In terms of Iraq there needs to be planning, based not just on short term need, but also medium and long term considerations. In my opinion there are many reforms that need to be implemented – and there is no time like the present!
- Iraq being moved out of Chapter 7, what do you see the impact as being?
As far as I know, sanctions under Chapter 7 didn’t influence the activities between our two countries. However, the trade volume is currently very small, our import of oil from Iraq is only 2% of our total imported oil. And our export is only 1 % of Iraqi’s total import. We have a lot of opportunities to expand especially in technology.
- Role of Corporate social responsibility in supporting both capacity building and economic of Iraq?
I think that’s one of the most important elements to get entry to this country for big projects. One good example is that the Japanese oil company JAPEX is now working in Gharraf oilfield, they built up vocational training house beside the project side to provide vocational training to the local people there. We are also exploring potentials to sponsor one of the local professional football Iraqi teams by one of the mega Japanese companies such as Toyota. We’re still in the negotiation phase with the Japanese companies.
- WEE-related initiatives in Japan: Shine Weeks: ‘A Society Where Women Shine’. How does this relate to Iraq?
Regarding the Second Conference which is supposed to be held in the upcoming August, we already invited one lady, an Iraqi activist, as we invite one personality from each country. In terms of further activities, we don’t have any concrete ideas yet, but we wish to hold some seminars in Iraq.
- In the summary of proposals of last year’s WAW week, Empowering Women through Technology was highlighted. What is your view?
The education or access to science and technology by women are very important. In the eighties, the ratio among women who went to universities was only 22% in 1980, at that time it was popular for women to go to junior colleges, which was only for 2 years. Now, junior colleges are very rare, so in 2013 the ratio of women who went to university was 42%. One of the top universities in Japan is the University of Tokyo, in 1980 only 6% of those who attended were women, it now stands at 19%. That means 1 out of 5 students is female. In my time, women would study, get jobs and then, when they get married they would quit.
In general terms, I believe that job opportunities are wider for science graduates; for example students who graduate from physics can be diplomats, but it doesn’t work as well the other way around. I would also say in general the increase of educational faculties in science and technology is beneficial to both men and women. An educational environment free of gender discrimination promotes progress for everyone that is the bottom line.
His Excellency made some final remarks with reference to the Council of Representatives quota for women of 25% as being important in terms of promoting positive change. He felt that this kind of initiative meant that Iraqi women were more liberated that those from Japan in general terms; an interesting final perspective.
We finished with the promise that his Excellency would investigate how he could get more Japanese companies working in Iraq to collaborate with Nina. He was particularly interested in the opportunities our business directory offered in terms of building reach and understanding. Other than this positive feeling around future collaboration, I did leave with another gift. Well, a loan to be more precise. In the spirit of building awareness for Japanese products, his Excellency let me take away a new massage appliance. He was keen to get me to review it in Nina. I was about to push for potentially getting advertising also – but at that point my time was up! So, in the spirit of Iraqi-Japanese relations, watch this space! I will be letting you know how I get on over the next few weeks.
 Source UNESCO