Technological innovation and globalization have opened up seemingly limitless economic opportunity in every corner of the world. Yet the unprecedented pace of change has also created serious challenges, including environmental degradation, economic marginalization and the rise of extremism. In today’s integrated world, these issues need to be addressed by all nations, developed and developing, with all of society’s stakeholders shaping the solutions. Members of the United Nations demonstrated the international community’s resolve to address such challenges by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.
In pursuing the 17 SDGs, which range from health, education to environmental protection, women’s rights and the implementation of gender mainstreaming have been a key focus to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in major decisions. That’s why Japan will seek to accelerate the empowerment of women next year, as it takes up the presidency of the G20 and hosts the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development.
Empowering women is an integral component of investing human resources, an approach that has helped Japan overcome many challenges over the centuries and allowed its people to flourish. Here are examples of Japan’s efforts to share its experience through collaboration with developing partners around the world.
Grow to Sell: Promotion of a Market-Oriented Approach in Africa
Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion (SHEP) approach began in Kenya in 2006 but has now reached over 63,000 farmers in more than 23 countries across Africa. The approach favors market-oriented agriculture, encouraging participants to rethink their strategy from “grow and sell” to “grow to sell.”
Through this approach, farmers go to market to confirm for themselves what is selling well, so their families can raise crops with higher value.
In addition, SHEP Gender Awareness Training encourages couples to reconsider traditional gender roles—to envision husbands and wives as partners who collaborate on farm management. All trainings and events are equally available to men and women.
“In SHEP…the husband and wife are considered one unit,” says Dr. Jiro Aikawa, SHEP senior adviser. “They are encouraged to cooperate in farm work and management and to share a common vision to improve the household—better foods, home repairs, education for their children, agricultural investments and so on.”
While the approach is proving very profitable—some farmers are said to have doubled their incomes—Dr. Aikawa says it’s resulted in a reconsideration of traditional gender roles as well. “Couples started discussing family finances, improving not only the division of labor but also the productivity of farms. ”
Learning From Tragedy: Sharing Disaster Preparedness with Pacific Island Nations
Violence against women often increases after natural disasters, but women are frequently tasked with protecting their families during and after such tragedies. They play a critical role in restoring damaged communities and promoting disaster preparedness by teaching tradition and history.
“Women need to be involved in all levels of disaster preparedness, from the family to the national government. Unfortunately, women’s participation in higher levels of decision-making is often limited, in both Japan and Small Island Developing States (SIDS),” explains Mihoko Kumamoto, director of the Hiroshima branch of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). “The participation, at every level, of diverse individuals and members of vulnerable communities is invaluable in enhancing preparedness that adequately address everyone’s needs.”
Japan has gone through numerous natural disasters, says Kumamoto, and disaster preparedness cultivated among its peoples can be valuable to those facing similar situations. Sponsored by Japan, UNITAR women’s leadership training seminars focus on disaster prevention, preparedness and response.
Based on the experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, Japan started Disaster Risk Reduction programs and women’s leadership training in Sendai and Tokyo via UNITAR, inviting middle- and senior-level female government officials and NGO workers from 17 Pacific and Indian Ocean SIDS with a high risk of tsunami.
In Sendai, participants visited Ishinomaki, a city devastated by the 2011 earthquake. During the training, they used a 3D model of Ishinomaki to understand how the city was affected and what evacuation routes were feasible. They also observed disaster drills at Fujitodai Elementary School, Hirokawa Nakayoshi Kindergarten and a TonenGeneral oil refinery.
“By giving women leadership training, UNITAR equips its participants to act as leaders at both the community and national level,” says Kumamoto. “By bringing a member of the government and a member of the civil society from each target country, UNITAR’s program aims to foster dialogue and cooperation between stakeholders.”
After returning home, participants designed and implemented disaster preparedness drills in their own communities. They also worked to improve communication systems and utilize existing networks, such as church communities or the PTA, to promote tsunami drills and other disaster preparedness plans.
The Best Medicine: Education for Women and Children in Mozambique
Japan’s efforts to promote women’s success also encompass efforts made by individuals and NGOs: The death of a good friend from breast cancer in her 20s prompted Sayaka Kuriyama, a shop manager in Shibuya, to leave her home and save lives in southeast Africa.
“I decided to see parts of the world I had never thought about going to,” Kuriyama explains. “I was wearing dirty clothes and cheap sandals. But different people helped me a lot. On buses, on the streets—everywhere. I wanted to give this feeling to others in need.”
She volunteered at hospitals and orphanages, where she saw children suffering with HIV, malaria and other illnesses.
“I never studied social work—I didn’t think I would be able to do something big for many people,” she says. “I thought maybe I could do something small for some people. So I decided to start some small projects in North Mozambique.”
After getting medical training, Kuriyama was able to treat patients in Mozambique, administering medicine and assisting doctors, who are in short supply. In 2010, her educational nonprofit organization, Chicamushizio, established the first Achante Mama school. It was intended initially to instruct women in basic medical care, but she soon added a classroom to teach reading and writing to both women and children.
“Mothers who had studied even up to the fourth grade are better with medical instructions, prescriptions and nutrition,” says Kuriyama. Those with no education often missed appointments or administered medications incorrectly.
Kuriyama has garnered support in Japan: Funding for Achante Mama comes from donations from charity events. The schools also receive donations of pencils, notebooks and other supplies. There are now Achante Mama schools in Mozambique and Malawi, reaching more than 520 students.
“Some of the children who have studied with us for seven or eight years, now teach younger children,” says Kuriyama. “Some women who started out as students have become our brilliant co-workers. We are teaching them how to support each other and prepare the next generation.”
A Path to Growth: A Female Entrepreneur Helps Farmers in Cambodia
Fostering entrepreneurship among women is essential for creating a vibrant community. In rural Cambodia, Japan is helping female entrepreneur Lim Porty fight poverty and improve opportunities for local farmers, while promoting food safety, fair trade and environmental awareness.
After learning marketing and finance through Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Center, an entrepreneurial program sponsored by the Japanese government, Porty applied the knowledge with the company Natural Agriculture Village (NAV), which she has been working at and sells organic vegetables purchased from 30 Cambodian farming families in Kandal province, securing a stable market for their produce.
“Through CJCC program, I was able to visit different companies and see real business operations and develop an entrepreneurial mindset of respect, motivation and commitment. I brought these lessons to my colleagues to improve our business and make it sustainable.”
The collective also promotes women in decision-making in a number of ways, according to Porty. “The NAV encourages women to be team leaders and to be active in the local quality-assurance programs,” she says. “[And we] encourage husbands and wives to share responsibilities in their vegetable garden.”