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Meet Our Allies: Interview with Raphael Yeo

Japan ranks among the worst in fertility rate. Some experts argue that this is due to poor working conditions for women. In this week's #HeSupports, we interviewed Raphael Yeo, who shared 3 structural issues in our current Japanese system that is causing the low fertility rate.

You were one of the first males who came to the WE Int. meeting. What do you hope WE Int. will achieve?

Gender Equality in Japan! Not to menspect (like putting my man expectations on We Int), I really hope in the short run, you will inspire many more women to identify with your cause(s)! In the longer run, I hope that WE Int will give a larger voice to women, especially women struggling with work and having children, and perhaps even advising/lobbying on policy decisions on the political level!

You’ve done a lot of research in fertility. Japan ranks 179 in fertility rate. Some experts argue the low fertility rate in Japan is due to poor working environment for women. What’s your take on that view?

The literature does say that part of low fertility is definitely due to poor work environments. But in general, there is a trend of decreasing fertility as societies become more economically developed. This is probably due to the investment shift of quantity to the quality of a child. Parents are now investing more than ever in their children as compared to previously. But that being said, I think it is totally unacceptable that women do not get the help they need, especially when women are an integral part of the modern workforce. Dual income families are now the norm, so I don’t see why society cannot support them in this endeavour.

Furthermore, most families cannot survive comfortably on a single breadwinner anymore.

For the Japanese case, I feel that the societal conservatism is the primary reason that prevents women from accessing the workforce proper. First and foremost, there is an entrenched societal mentality that reinforces the breadwinner-homemaker model. There are societal expectations for women to stay at home, while the men go out and work. But as aforementioned, in this current global economy, this approach becomes economically unwise. I feel that if this mindset is overcome, then families and women will feel more comfortable to have them pursue their professional lives.

Off my head, there are at least 3 structural issues that first need to change. For example, the tax system does disincentives women from pursuing full time work – higher tax for combined family income should it exceed a certain threshold etc. My suggestion would be to shift this tax system from a family unit base, to one based on the individual. Further improvements that are needed would be a change in the labour laws regarding protection of the part time employee, as many women work part time due to the family tax conditions. Finally, even though there is paternity leave available in Japan, it is not mandatory for the father to take. If it was, perhaps it could nudge fathers to share the burden of childrearing, to perhaps incentivise families to better the fertility rate in Japan.

How is gender related issue treated in Japan compared to your home country?

For one, we do not have such an entrenched mindset on the familial structure. So I think it has been a lot easier to implement changes that support gender equality. But the fact is that Singapore has viewed women as an important part of the economy for a long time, since the 60s. As such, empowerment has not been as difficult as in Japan. Furthermore, as a multi-racial society, we are I think more predisposed to an exchange of ideas. Hence, I think the government sees what works for us and tries to implement changes in an incremental way. For example, with the implementation of the mandatory paternity leave, it took a number of years to raise it to the current 2 weeks. We introduced 1 week first, and then it was followed up with 2 weeks a few years later.

How do you think men can benefit from achieving gender equality?

I think men can benefit in many ways with greater gender equality. For example, with more mandatory paternity and childcare leave, fathers can have more time to fully participate in the growing up years of their child. I think those experiences would be very invaluable to them, even though it may not translate to tangible benefits. On the more tangible side, not having women drop out of the economy due to household responsibilities would translate into much economic benefits for the whole economy. But more than that, acknowledging and promoting gender equality is crucial for a better and more gracious society. Society will learn to be less misogynistic and self-centered. People will grow up in societies that respect and care for women, children, the weak, and the marginalised. And I truly hope for that kind of world.

Raphael Yeo

From Singapore, and currently doing my Masters of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and the University of Tokyo. In my previous life, I used to be a professional musician and amateur poker player. I am inspired by Russian composers, Chinese culture, and Singaporean food.

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