Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden in Closing at Roundtable Discussion on Women in the Japanese Economy

Tokyo, Japan–(ENEWSPF)–December 3, 2013. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you, Ambassador.  Look, first of all, thank you all very much.  This has been both interesting, intriguing, and very important. 

As was pointed out, I’m not going to identify each of the panelists, for I haven’t asked their permission to who said what. But as has been pointed out, Japan, like many other countries around the world, in Europe and in Asia as well, is running into a bit of a conundrum, which is that birth rates are slowing and/or declining and/or in the negative territory, both in Europe and in parts of Asia — in Japan.  And I am often kidded by the President for using the phrase I guess I use frequently that reality has a way of intruding.  Reality is intruding in a way, not only here in Japan but around the world, to make it clear to national leaders that, as Nick Kristof said, women are half the sky.  Women are half the sky.  They are half the brainpower.  They are half the energy.  They’re half the innovation.  And so many countries, including to some degree ours, wastes that asset — waste that asset. 

And so it’s not only the right thing to do based on issues of equality that we feel very strongly about — the President and I and the Ambassador, both Ambassadors — but it has profound, direct economic impact on the GDP of a country.  And so one of the good things that’s occurred is the growing realization, in some places out of necessity — I’m not just speaking in Japan now — out of necessity, that women have to be fully included and engaged in the workforce and in leadership.

I said earlier that some advocates argue that the reason to have women more involved in leadership positions is they’re gentler and kinder.  I’ve never found that to be the case.  (Laughter.)  They’re as tough, they’re as strong, they’re as everything as a man is, and vice versa.  But the important thing that’s different is, just like men, they bring a different perspective — a different perspective.  And that perspective sometimes shines the light on the avenue that no one thought about pursuing.

I was telling them I recently met with Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore — he is much older now.  I think he’s 92.  He’s not in the same physical condition, but his mind is as sharp and as incisive as it ever has been.  And I asked him — I said, what’s going on in this part of the world?  What’s going on in China now?  What’s going on in India?  He said, “Well, they’re in America looking for the black box.  They’re looking for that thing that allows Americans to remake themselves as a country every generation or two.”  And I said, I can tell them what’s in the black box — a constant stream of immigration and diversity, bringing totally new perspectives, totally new perspectives, and ultimately being totally integrated into the society, and it’s stamped in every American’s DNA that you get rewarded for challenging orthodoxy. 

Well, the most important orthodoxy to challenge around the world is the orthodoxy that says somehow, women have a limited role.  Somehow, women — there are certain things women can’t do. I’ve said this many times in America, and I’ll continue to say it.  I personally will not rest till my four granddaughters have every single, solitary opportunity my grandson has.  And I mean every.  I don’t mean some; I mean every.  There’s not a single thing that a man can do that a woman cannot do.  And until we begin to face up to that, we’re going to be having an incredible amount of wasting assets out there.  But it’s also — guess what — the right thing to do.

And the last thing I’ll say is that I, too, compliment Prime Minister Abe on the initiative to bring more women into the workforce, sustain them in the workforce, give them similar opportunities.  And the $3 billion commitment that Japan has made around the world for women in areas of the world where we have — who not only don’t have job opportunities, but are treated as property, where they are viewed as being owned by their husbands — cultures where people say it’s all right to physically abuse a woman.  There is never, never, never, in any culture, anyplace, anywhere, that makes it justified for a man to treat a woman physically in an inhumane way.  I don’t care what the culture is. It’s about time we shred these notions.

And so Japan is leading the way in many of these areas around the world, and it looks like it’s decided to write a new chapter.  And by the way, we in America have a long way to go as well.  But there’s an inevitability to this march.  There’s an inevitability to it.  And I’m delighted to be here with six people, two men and four women, who have slightly different perspectives on how to do it, but absolutely firmly committed to the notion that the women of Japan hold Japan’s future in their hand as well as any man in Japan holds the future.

So thank you all for having me.  It’s been a great honor to be with you.