Only 1 in 7 Japanese scientists are women: Study

TOKYO (AFP) - Just a seventh of scientists in Japan are female, government figures show - the lowest rate of any developed nation, despite being a record high for the country.

The survey comes amid a high-profile row in Japan that has pitted a young female researcher against the scientific establishment, and after repeated calls for Tokyo to boost female participation in the workforce to help plug a skills gap in the economy.

A nationwide study by the internal affairs ministry found that in March last year there were a record 127,800 female scientists in Japan, accounting for 14.4 per cent of the total and up 0.4 percentage points from a year earlier.

"Compared with 10 years ago in 2003, the pace of increase in the number of female scientists surpasses that of males in all organisations," the ministry said.

Despite being a personal best for Japan, the percentage is the lowest among countries with comparable data in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), sometimes called the rich nations' club.

In Russia it was 41.2 per cent in 2012, 37.7 per cent in Britain in 2011, 34.9 per cent in Italy in 2011 and 33.6 per cent in the United States in 2010.

The Japanese figure, released Monday, is also lower than Germany's 26.7 per cent, France's 25.6 per cent and South Korea's 17.3 per cent, all in 2011.

The findings come as a scandal plays out involving one of Japan's premier research bodies and a 30-year-old female scientist who claimed to have made a groundbreaking discovery in stem cell research.

Haruko Obokata, whose work was published in the British journal "Nature", outlined a way to change adult cells into the basic material for any body tissue, potentially offering a ready supply of transplant organs.

Obokata's research was hailed as revolutionary, but much of the popular media coverage focused on the fact that she is a young woman in a world dominated by middle-aged men, with newspapers and television offering profiles that concentrated on her supposed feminine charms.

When questions were raised about the science, with claims that data had been manipulated, sections of the media turned on the young scientist.

Obokata insisted her findings were valid, but her acknowledgement that she had been sloppy with the evidence was covered by one newspaper publishing a huge front-page picture of her tear-stained face, setting off a social media debate about sexism in Japan.

Economists and commentators around the world agree that Japan's well-educated women are underused, with many dropping out of the workforce when they have children and few returning to their careers.

Japanese Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to focus efforts on boosting female participation in the labour force, which lags well behind that of many other developed economies.

Studies have shown that Japan's economy could benefit substantially from boosting the number of women in employment, perhaps helping to compensate for years of tepid growth.

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