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Five women named in Japan's new cabinet

Japan's prime minister has picked five women for his cabinet, matching the past record and sending the strongest message yet about his determination to revive the economy by getting women on board as workers and leaders.

The country has a vast pool of talented, well-educated women, but they are far under-represented in positions of power in government and corporations.

Women make up 10pc of parliament and just 3.9pc of board members of listed Japanese companies, versus 12pc in the US and 18pc in France.

They have long complained about the obstacles to getting taken seriously at work, getting equal pay for equal work and finding child-care or helpful spouses.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that a key part of his "Abenomics" growth strategy is making greater use of women and promoting them to leadership posts - a campaign dubbed "womenomics", a term he has embraced. Mr Abe has set a goal of having women in 30% of leadership positions in both the private and public sectors by 2020.

Having five women in the cabinet, which currently has 18 members, is extremely rare for Japan. It matches the highest number, set back in 2001, under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Mr Abe's previous cabinet, dissolved earlier in the day, had two women ministers.

Although holding ministerial positions are in some ways ceremonial in Japan, where government affairs are largely run by professional bureaucrats, expanding the presence of women in a place as high-profile as the cabinet is a step toward sexual equality in Japan.

Yuko Obuchi, daughter of a former prime minister, was named trade and economy minister, probably the most prominent post, and Midori Matsushima was appointed justice minister.

Mr Abe risked offending the long line of powerful men in his ruling party, who had been waiting to get their promotions.

While some experts say upsetting male colleagues could weaken Mr Abe's grip on power, others said he may strengthen his position by inspiring women, who are very active in party politics in Japan at the voter level even if generally do not hold senior positions.

Several top ministers were retained, such as Fumio Kishida as foreign minister and Taro Aso as finance minister, both men.

PA Media