Promoting Women in Japanese Politics


Elections to Japan’s lower house later this year are seen as a chance to close the gender gap in the country’s political representation. But even if a law aims to increase the number of female candidates, some parties have not set targets for the proportion of women they plan to support in the next election.

Japan’s poor gender equality record was highlighted in this year’s World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. The country is ranked 147th out of 156 for women’s political empowerment. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only 9.9% of members of the Lower House of the Diet are women, well below the world average of 25.5%.

Efforts to address the disparity have so far been largely unsuccessful. They include a 2018 law that was passed unanimously and requires political parties to make voluntary efforts to increase the number of female candidates.

The law allows parties to set their own goals. The pressure is increasing for goals to become mandatory. A longtime bipartisan group that helped draft the law is now considering updates to include a system of enforceable quotas.

Nakagawa Masaharu, a former gender equality minister who heads the task force, says changes are needed to make the law more effective: “We had local elections and upper house elections across the board. national after the promulgation of the law, but the number of women politicians has not increased enough.

Nakagawa, a member of the largest constitutional democratic opposition party, cites the controversy over the apparently sexist remarks made by the then Tokyo Olympic leader earlier this year as a potential turning point.

“I have a feeling that interest in gender equality in Japan has increased since then,” he says. “I want to advance the Japanese diet and society.”

Activists in Japan argue that electing more women will lead to a more inclusive society. Some of them spoke last month at a webinar hosted by Parite Campaign, a Japanese group that advocates for equal gender representation in politics, and the Women’s Action Network.

Kitanaka Chisato, head of a Japanese organization that supports victims of domestic violence, believes that female politicians are more inclined to fight domestic and sexual violence.

“Sometimes people want to avoid talking about these issues, but female politicians may have had similar experiences or relate to the issues through friendships,” says Kitanaka.

Sutou Yumiko, who works for a group targeting sexual violence, says the lack of female representation led to constant frustration during the process of revising a criminal law in 2017.

“I expected the Diet to tighten the law on sexual abuse, but there was a movement to procrastinate the debate,” she said. “Some bipartisan lawmakers have expressed the need to discuss this quickly, with a sense of urgency, to prevent sex crimes.”

Another advocate for victims of sexual abuse, Yamamoto Jun, argues that women’s opinions can be powerful and compelling: “I believe that the voice and actions of women parliamentarians can move those of politicians.”

Yamamoto adds that female politicians have inspired some of their male counterparts to change their attitude and approach.

Webinar attendees all agree that they want more women legislators to broaden the range of issues raised, including discrimination in the workplace and educational opportunities.

Activists speak at a webinar hosted by the Parite Campaign and the Women’s Action Network on April 10.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Japan. In all these years, the proportion of women parliamentarians in the lower house barely changed – from 8.3% in 1946 to 9.9% in 2021.

But with the current term of lawmakers in the Lower House ending in October, political parties and voters in Japan stand a chance to bridge the vast gender divide.

As for the proportion of female candidates they plan to present, many opposition parties have already set their goals. The CDP announced that it was aiming for 30%. On the other side of the political divide, the main ruling Liberal Democrats have not declared a target, but some member MPs who work on women’s empowerment say it should be 15%.

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