Sat, Jul 13, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Economist is Japan’s exception as a woman

Yuka Takeda defies the trend in Japan’s male-dominated political world as she discusses Central Asia’s economics, poverty levels and social justice from her experience in Japan, Russia and Kazakhstan

By Mayumi Otsuma  /  Bloomberg

“We are still far from understanding the ways in which individuals and communities find themselves being trapped into poverty,” said Vladimir Gimpelson, director of Moscow’s Centre for Labour Market Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics. Gimpelson, who was Takeda’s academic adviser in Russia, first met her when he taught at Tokyo University in 1998.

“Takeda made a significant contribution to this research. Her work puts into question the issues that have been treated as stylized facts by other researchers and finds that reality is more complex,” Gimpelson said.

Takeda’s book, Economic Analysis of Poverty in Transitional Russia: A Microeconometric Approach, argues from data collected in Russia that households whose economic conditions are declining reach a tipping point beyond which they fall rapidly into poverty.

She also argued against the prevailing belief that the country’s economic expansion was pro-poor, demonstrating that most of the benefits accrued to the rich because there were few mechanisms to let growth trickle down to lower-income households.

“Backed by her language skill and experience of living in the country, she succeeded in conveying perceptions of Russian people’s daily life of the period, which bleak data analysis can never provide,” said Watanabe, the Ohira award judge.

Despite her library studies, Takeda had little spoken Russian when she arrived in Moscow and learned by staying in the apartment of a radio journalist and his family. She also got a taste of some of the hardships Muscovites endured at the time, such as having no hot water for weeks and being trapped in the dark in a faulty elevator.

In Kazakhstan in late 2011, her computer stopped working in her hotel, prompting a taxi driver to jokingly suggest that, in his country, winter is cold enough to freeze even the Wi-Fi signal.

In both countries, she noticed how many people she worked with were women. Moscow’s statistics department and social-policy research institute were “almost an environment for women only,” said Takeda, whose two-year stay in the country contributed to her love of gymnastics and figure skating.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month proposed increasing women’s participation in the workforce as part of his economic-growth strategy. Women account for 14 percent of researchers of all fields in Japan, trailing 42 percent in Russia and 34 percent in the US, according to a Japanese government white paper on gender equality published in June.

The higher proportion of female researchers in Russia does not translate to greater equality in power. Only 14 percent of legislators in Russia last year were women, and 24 percent in Kazakhstan, according to the World Bank. The shares are still higher than in Japan, where just 8 percent of lawmakers in the Diet were female.

It is hard for women to obtain tenure or a stable position at a Japanese university, according to Takeda.

“It takes time to secure positions even if your academic achievements are highly valued,” she said. “When the issue of employment comes around, I think there is a difference. We can’t deny that it’s harder for a woman.”

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