A Helping Hand


In Japan and India, two women navigate life’s transitions


A Helping Hand In Japan and India, two women navigate life’s transitions

Peter Langan, Reema Nanavaty

Social protection comes in various forms. In Japan, an advanced economy, retirees like Toshiko Taniuchi will make up two-fifths of the population by mid-century. Thanks to her government pension and help from her family, she remains active and independent. In youthful India, by contrast, most workers labor in the informal sector, without state-provided social protection. Jetunbibi Shirajbhi Seikh’s family was having trouble making ends meet until she joined an association of self-employed women, which helped her start a business. As these two women’s stories show, social protection not only shields individuals from the vagaries of life, but it helps them fulfill their potential, to the benefit of families, communities, and society.

Keeping active in Japan Toshiko Taniuchi participated in Japan’s post–World War II economic miracle, as a growing population helped fuel a rapid expansion in output. She ran a shop in Tokyo while raising three children. Today, Taniuchi is retired, and the trend has reversed. An aging and shrinking population is weighing on economic growth.

Taniuchi, now 79 years old, has lived with her son and his family since her husband’s death several years ago. She worries about being a burden on her family, so she strives to stay fit and healthy.

"I exercise and keep active to try not to cause my children too much trouble," she says. She also visits a physical therapist to recover from a back operation. "Luckily there’s a bus that stops a 10-minute walk away from the rehabilitation center, and that short walk helps me stay fit."

Taniuchi keeps to a strict schedule, starting her day with exercises from a radio program at 6:30 a.m. She goes to karaoke three times a month, calligraphy on the first Saturday of every month, drawing on the third Tuesday, and ground golf—a type of croquet—once a week. Then there are community events, like local disaster drills and neighborhood cleanup drives.

"I try to do these things and exercise to avoid getting dementia," she says. "I make sure I’m doing different things instead of sitting watching TV, cleaning, and doing laundry."

Japan famously has the world’s oldest population, with people 65 and older accounting for about 27 percent of its 127 million people, according to government estimates, up from 9 percent in 1980. The proportion of elderly people is forecast to rise almost to 40...

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