The first daughter and adviser to the president addressed the Japanese government’s World Assembly for Women conference Friday, just two days before President Trump arrives in Tokyo on his first trip to Japan as president.

The visit will include golf at a country club and a banquet, but no headline speech. That job, instead, fell to his daughter, who gave a “special speech” on female entrepreneurship and women’s participation in the economy, similar to those she made during a women’s forum hosted by Angela Merkel in Germany earlier this year.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has championed increasing women’s participation in the workforce as a way to pull Japan out of its decades of economic malaise. But his efforts have resulted in little tangible progress.

Tidbits from Ivanka’s speech

“I deeply respect and honor women who choose to work inside the home full time to care for their families,” she said in an 18-minute speech at the forum, with Abe sitting on the stage beside her. “We never want to discourage that incredible calling, but we must also ensure that every woman has the freedom to work outside the home if they so choose.”

Ivanka Trump delivers a speech as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens at World Assembly for Women: WAW! 2017 conference in Tokyo. (Eugene Hoshiko/Reuters)
Ivanka Trump delivers a speech as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens at World Assembly for Women: WAW! 2017 conference in Tokyo. (Eugene Hoshiko/Reuters)

Trump praised Abe’s efforts to promote women’s participation in the workforce in Japan. She said the United States and Japan must do more to make it easier for women to balance career and family, and to create environments where women feel welcome and valued.

The Ivanka hype

Japan has something of a fascination with Ivanka Trump, who is viewed here by some as the perfect woman: She has a career and a beautiful family and blond hair and always looks immaculate.

“Many people think she’s like a princess,” said Lully Miura, a political scientist at the University of Tokyo. “She’s well educated, beautiful, sophisticated and rich. And it’s very surprising to Japanese women that she can also talk about things that are important to society.”

  • At least four television channels broadcast a live shot of an empty escalator Thursday afternoon, awaiting her arrival at the airport, interspersed with her tweets and Instagram photos.
  • TV commentators noted approvingly that she says she spends 20 minutes each morning meditating and only eight minutes putting on her makeup — balancing her luxury celebrity lifestyle with being a mother of three children.
  • At least one channel had a cardboard cutout of Ivanka on set.
  • Japanese companies that import her clothing label say they’ve had a surge in sales.
  • An online store, Waja, was selling about six Ivanka Trump brand items of clothing a month before her father was elected president. This year, it has averaged about 600 a month.

“I think people who saw the news about Ivanka’s visit to Japan are checking our website and buying,” said Yukie Suzuki, a Waja spokeswoman.

In her speech at World Assembly for Women: WAW! 2017 conference in Tokyo, Ivanka Trump said we must “ensure that every woman has the freedom to work outside the home if they so choose.” (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)
In her speech at World Assembly for Women: WAW! 2017 conference in Tokyo, Ivanka Trump said we must “ensure that every woman has the freedom to work outside the home if they so choose.” (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

The cause of Japanese women

While the 36-year-old’s arrival in Japan has generated the kind of coverage usually reserved for celebrities, Ivanka Trump and her message at the prime minister’s conference do little to advance the cause of the average Japanese woman, analysts say.

“I’ve long been cynical about his efforts to promote women,” said Chelsea Szendi Schieder, an expert on gender in Japan who teaches at Meiji University in Tokyo. Abe’s initiative, dubbed “womenomics,” seems like a branding effort that promotes a few elite women rather than a serious effort to reduce the wage gap or poverty experienced by single mothers, she said.

Underlining this, Japan has slipped further in the World Economic Forum’s global gender-equality rankings.

  • Japan now comes in 114th out of 144 countries regarding gender equality, making it by far the worst in the Group of Seven industrial nations.
  • Japan stood at 101st in 2012, the year Abe returned to office.

The decline in women’s “political empowerment,” largely because of a reduction in the number of women in parliament and in senior political positions, drove this year’s deterioration, according to the report, published Thursday.

Only two of the 24 ministers in Abe’s cabinet and less than 10 percent of members of parliament are women.

Japanese work culture

While more women are working, they are overrepresented in part-time or casual jobs that do not come with the security or benefits of regular jobs. Seventy percent of part-time workers are women, according to the latest statistics from the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training.

Furthermore, there is strong pressure on women to quit their jobs once they have babies, a phenomenon so prevalent that it has its own name: “mata-hara,” short for “maternity harassment.” Almost half of working women quit their jobs after having a baby, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

Much of the problem stems from an inflexible work culture that demands long hours at the office and mandatory attendance at after-work social events

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