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

Author:Peter Langan - Reema Nanavaty
Position:Freelance journalist based in Tokyo. He was formerly Tokyo bureau chief for Bloomberg News - Director of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), in Ahmedabad, India
December 2018 | FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT 35
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. anks 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 protec-
tion 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 sev-
eral 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 tr y not to cause my
children too much trouble,” she says. She also visits
a physical therapist to recover from a back opera-
tion. “Luckily there’s a bus that stops a 10-minute
walk away from the rehabilitat ion center, and th at
short walk helps me stay fit.”
Taniuchi keeps to a strict schedule, star ting her
day with exercises from a radio program at 6:30
a.m. She goes to karaoke three times a month,
calligraphy on the fir st Saturday of every month,
drawing on the third Tuesday, and ground golf—a
type of croquet—once a week. en t here are
community events, like loc al disaster d rills 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 T V,
cleanin g, and doing laundry.”
Japan famously has t he 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.
e proportion of elderly people is forecast to rise
almost to 40 percent by 2050.
e demographic shift is putting pressure on Japan
to improve productivity and expand the labor force,
which could be done by bringing in more women
and older workers. at would require eliminat-
ing disincentives to full-time and regular work and

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