Rui Matsukawa—The Women behind WAW!
Rui Matsukawa—The Women behind WAW!

Rui Matsukawa—The Women behind WAW!


Rui Matsukawa
Director of the Gender Mainstreaming Division, Foreign Policy Bureau, MOFA

Matsukawa-san, a wife and a mother, is a successful woman who actively promotes and believes that women can shine all around the world.

—Last year Japan hosted the second WAW! in Tokyo. The number of participants and speakers was much larger than the year before. Why in your opinion is there a need to discuss women’s empowerment issues on a global scale? Do women in Japan experience similar challenges to women in other countries given different economic development, culture, and history etc.?

First, let me introduce the WAW!. Held on August 28 and 29 of last year featured 145 leaders in women’s issues from around the world and 2,000 audience members took part in the two days. The theme of last year’s assembly was “WAW! For All–Various Generations and Perspectives of Men and Women Together”. The opening speech was made by Prime Minister Abe, and keynote speeches were made by Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first popularly-elected female president in Africa, President Sirleaf of Liberia, as well as Ms. Marillyn Hewson, the first career-track woman CEO of Lockheed Martin, among others. Several High-Level Round Table discussions were held on the two themes: “Women and the Economy” and “Global Challenges”, for global leaders to discuss and make recommendations.

There are certainly different challenges for women depending on the degree of a country’s economic development, culture and religious background, but the foundations are universal. In other words, women are placed in difficult circumstances, and when they exercise their potential, it brings better conditions not only for women but for the whole society.

WAW! makes contributions around the world, but is also expanding various initiatives to promote the activities of women in Japan.

World leaders active in women’s issues share information about the various challenges facing women around the world, and look for better solutions. Also, by bringing together leaders that are struggling with similar challenges, they can encourage each other and develop new networks to activate their various initiatives and help each other. Hence, WAW! is not merely a symposium. WAW! takes action, WAW! is a network, and WAW! is a movement.

Rui Matsukawa

Rui Matsukawa, the first Director of the Gender Mainstreaming Division, Foreign Policy Bureau, MOFA, a position introduced in 2014.

Ms. Matsukawa coordinated the first and the second World Assembly for Women (WAW!) held in Tokyo. This event was the initiative of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and featured many prominent speakers that included the Prime Minister himself, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia), Marillyn A. Hewson (Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin), Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (Exexutive Director, UN Women), Zainab Hawa Bangura (UNSRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict), and Linda A. Hill (Professor at Harvard Business School) among others.

The 2014 assembly’s theme was “Toward a Society Where Women Shine,” taken from PM Abe’s speech at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, when he stated: “Creating an environment in which women find it comfortable to work, and enhancing opportunities for women to work and to be active in society is no longer a matter of choice for Japan.”

The 2015 assembly’s theme was “WAW! for All”. Sessions focusing on, not just working women, but women facing challenges and men engage in reforms were held. In addition, Youth Table was held to make and occasion to share the thoughts of the younger generations.

WAW! To Do 2015

Please find the following link to read the Summary Document:

Japan is attempting to change into a society where women play a more active role through Prime Minister Abe’s “Creating a Society in which All Women Shine”. Japan’s greatest challenge is its declining population due to aging and a low birth rate. I have no doubt that in 5 years there will be even more women active in various areas in our society. Also, with respect to global challenges, Japan has been involved in a variety of active efforts through international cooperation. With WAW! Japan will change, and will also stimulate further changes in the world. That is my hope for WAW!

WAW! will certainly be held again this year. A woman’s agenda will also be promoted at this year’s G7 Summit in Ise-Shima. We hope that this year’s WAW! will have synergy with the Ise-Shima Summit.

What is discussed in WAW! ?

Diversified stakeholders from governments, international organizations, and private sector discussed under two main themes “Women and the Economy” and “Global Issues”. Many ideas and proposals were created.

  1. Women and the Economy:
    High-Level Round Tables on “Women and the Economy” discuss the impact on the economy through women’s empowerment. Japan is putting in place a number of reforms aimed at the growth strategy of promoting the active participation of women. We want to take advantage of a great deal of wisdom from around the world in these initiatives in Japan. The themes of the tables were “Work-Life Management”, “Engaging Men in Reforms” to discuss men taking an active role in the empowerment of women in consideration of last year’s “WAW! for All” theme, and “Women Facing Challenges” which discussed the challenges faced by women, such as challenges for single mothers and the issue of maternity harassment, etc.
  2. Global Issues:
    High-Level Round Table on “Global Issues” was held for discussions of initiatives that need to be implemented world-wide to address the challenges faced by women. Issues such as; importance of girls’ education for women’s independence, expanding women’s participation in peace building process, and cooperating with business sector for women’s empowerment, should be known widely in the world to gather wisdom and support which lead to resolution.

Last year’s topics were “Girls and Education”, “Peacebuilding and Women”, and “Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships for International Cooperation”.

—You are a very active woman who tries to maintain a work-life balance. How has your own experience helped you in preparing WAW!?

I’m one of those working mothers trying to strike a balance between work and life. All the challenges faced by women around the world, and especially by girls, who cannot go to school, or who are forced to marry when they are young, give them no economic independence when they grow up. Work isn’t just making money, but is a way of feeling a pride in demonstrating our abilities, and contributing to society. I hope that my own daughters will grow up to be independent women, active in society.

WAW! Public Forum Opening Speech by Prime Minister Abe.
WAW! Public Forum Opening Speech by Prime Minister Abe.

As a working mother, I need to go to work even when I want to stay with my children. I wish to have more flexibility in work. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have more choices in way of working? However, there aren’t many choices in reality.

In Japan there are the two challenges of long working hours and roles division between men and women. Women still bear the burden of double work (work and child-rearing/housework). About 60% of women retire when they become pregnant with their first child. Although we can see progress compared to the past, women are still in an inferior position to men in terms of choice of profession, promotion and decision-making in the workplace. This awareness of the issues in daily life helped me to come up with last year’s WAW! agenda.

In order to create a larger WAW! movement, we have established “Shine Weeks” as side events that support the spirit of WAW! activities.

—What is the WAW! movement and how has it helped in seeing progress on women’s issues in Japan?

In order to create a larger WAW! movement, we have established “Shine Weeks” as side events that support the spirit of WAW! activities. Last year, the number of registered events doubled to 240 (120 in 2014). In addition to seminars and study sessions, there were also film festivals about women and concerts by female musicians among other events. Last year, we cooperated with Google Inc. and Eigyobu Joshika to establish an official WAW! YouTube channel (

We also set up a photo booth for participants to place their messages about a “Society where Women Shine”. We believe that these kind of initiatives directed to the general public will speed up women’s empowerment.

—What was the main outcome from this year’s WAW! and how do you rate it?

The outcome document of WAW!, which is designated as a United Nations document, “WAW! To Do” is not a commitment between countries, but is a collection of specific proposals based on the suggestions and ideas of participants. It is hoped that these proposals will come into effect around the world. In Japan, the follow-up documents for WAW! 2014 were created to summarize the efforts of the Japanese government and handed out at WAW! 2015. We intend to improve and expand a follow-up system for the next WAW!

More than anything else, WAW! has brought together leaders in the field of women’s issues from Japan and overseas. At this year’s WAW!, we want to focus on creating international networks.

More than anything else, WAW! has brought together leaders in the field of women’s issues from Japan and overseas. At this year’s WAW!, we want to focus on creating international networks, by providing opportunities for participants, including the audience, to communicate and exchange their experiences.

—If you have an opportunity to speak out to all women in this world, what would be your message?

Women are great at “bringing people together”. Women find it incredibly easy to create networks, which extend beyond generation, sector, and place. Women have a built-in instinct to think about others. The world can be a better place as women challenge themselves in various areas with bravery. So Ladies, lets unite and change the world together.

—As an international Japanese woman do you have some advice to other Japanese women who wish to follow your path?

Women have a lot of potential that only needs to be released. Shikibu Murasaki (a woman), for example, wrote the world’s earliest recorded novel, a few hundred years before Shakespeare.

Prime Minister Abe and the speakers of “Women’s Empowerment through Sanitation” session with WAW! hand sign.
Prime Minister Abe and the speakers of “Women’s Empowerment through Sanitation” session with WAW! hand sign.

Japan is a mature society: not everyone thinks the same way, nor wants the same thing. Everyone has different dreams. So if you work very hard, you’ll probably make them come true.

A “Society where Women Shine” is not just for women, but for everyone. This “society where women shine” uses “women” as the launching pad for creating a diverse and innovative social environment where everyone can participate. So let’s all go for it!

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