World Assembly for Women (WAW!) 2015


27.08.2015 - 30.08.2015


Tokyo, Japan (view on map)


Dr. Irma ErlingsdóttirThe Director of GEST, Dr. Irma Erlingsdóttir joined female political leaders, academics, managers and members of civil society in discussions on advancing women’s empowerment and agency on national and international levels at the World Assembly for Women (WAW!) 2015 conference held in Tokyo on August 27-30. 

The WAW! 2015 focused on the legal and normative protection of women against violence and discrimination, as well as empowerment of women and girls in the economic, political, health and social spheres of their societies. The event featured female political leaders, prominent academics and experts from international organizations, national governments and civil society from six continents and 40 countries to discuss the roles of women in politics, business and society.

The second WAW! was opened by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who initiated this event in 2014 as part of his “womenomics” strategy, an effort to advance women’s workforce participation and empowerment in Japan to boost economic growth in the country in a response to a rapidly ageing population and economic pressures. Prime Minister Abe played a central role in the proceedings and during the event the Japanese Parliament passed a new law to promote the role of women in the workplace.

In high-level panels and round-table discussions, experts engaged with the broader community of women´s activists on many important topics, such as enlisting men to work for gender equality, girls’ education, women and peace-building and multi-stakeholder partnerships for international cooperation. Special sessions were also held on women’s empowerment through sanitation, supporting women entrepreneurs across Asia, and gender and disaster risk reduction.

Dr. Irma Erlingsdóttir, Director of UNU-GEST, participated in the round-table discussions on women and the economy and the barriers and challenges faced by women while entering the labour market. She spoke on the importance of concerted efforts by all actors in society and at all levels and gave examples of actions and measures carried out in Iceland to overcome difficulties and barriers that women face in the labour market. Clear policies and strategies are needed, she argued, to change the underlying structures and realities that produce and reproduce gendered stereotypes and affect participation in the labour market despite laws and regulations, such as the 2008 Icelandic Gender Equality Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating on grounds of gender, pregnancy and maternity.


Panel with Mrs. Akie AbeMrs. Akie Abe, wife of Japan´s Prime Minister, and Mr. Shinzo Abe joined the panel for a part of the discussions. Prime Minister Abe told the panel of high-level representatives that he would like to see his country follow many European countries in policies addressing gender inequality and economic participation.

A central theme of the round-table panel was the situation of and stigma attached to single-mothers in Japan where more than half of all one-parent families live below the poverty line although single mothers have high employment rate compared with married mothers but single women have on average 35% of the equivalent of a full-time permanent position and child care centres are not offering the flexibility they need. In addition to Dr. Erlingsdóttir, many prominent people participated in the panel including Dr. Daniela Bankier, European Commission Head of Unit for equality between women and men in the Directorate-General Justice, Mr. Jean-Louis Billon, Minister for Commerce of the Ivory Coast, Ms. Sayaka Osakabe, Japanese women´s rights activist and founder of Matahara Net and recipient of the US State Department's International Women of Courage Award 2015 as well as Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former President of Latvia.


Japan meeting.Madame Kazuko Shiraishi, Ambassador for Women, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and Ambassador in charge of Arctic Affairs for the Nordic and Baltic Ambassadors to Japan, and Mr. Hirochika Namekawa, Deputy Director, Western Europe Division of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affaris, hosted an event with ambassadors and representatives from the Nordic countries and the Baltic states discussing the status of and progress in gender equality issues in these countries and Japan´s efforts towards women´s empowerment. Dr. Erlingsdóttir participated in the event with Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former President of Latvia, Mr. Pekka Haavisto, Member of the Finnish Parliament, Mr. Tord Tukun, Deputy Chief of Mission of Norway, Ambassador Egidijus Meilunas of Lithuania, Mr. Toomas Moor, First Secretary at the Embassy of Estonia and Mr. Fredrik Hillelson, founder and CEO of Novare Human Capital.