(Tokyo Shimbun: February 27, 2015 – p. 5)
It seems that the number of female lawmakers has not really increased. Women are a force that can change the local communities through citizens’ movements rooted in everyday life, for instance. The number of female lawmakers needs to be increased in the simultaneous local elections this spring in order to reflect diverse points of view in open local legislatures.
It is a sad reality of Japanese politics that there are only a few female politicians. Only 10% of members of local assemblies are women. The ratio is even lower when it comes to leaders of local governments. Among the 47 prefectures in the country, only Hokkaido and Yamagata are headed by female governors, and only 17 women are leaders of the 813 cities and wards in the country, including the 23 wards in Tokyo. There are no female members at all in 379 local assemblies, or 20% of the total. The worst case is in Aomori Prefecture, where 21 local assemblies out of a total of 41 have no female members.
On the other hand, the municipal assembly of Oiso in Kanagawa Prefecture has the highest ratio of female members in the country. Eight of the 13 members are women, and this is the only local assembly that has more women than men. These female members have submitted proposals to promote renewable energies and introduced assembly reforms that give emphasis to information disclosure.
There are also cases in other local assemblies where mothers campaigning for the issue of children waitlisted to enter child care facilities ended up becoming lawmakers.
The political imbalance resulting from the overwhelming predominance of men in legislatures needs to be rectified in order to reflect women’s point of view in policymaking.
How can the number of female lawmakers be increased? It is necessary to put in place systems that facilitate women’s political participation.
If women are burdened with all the housework, child care, and nursing care responsibilities, it will be difficult for them to participate in legislative activities, which sometimes require them to work on holidays or in the evening. Holding the assembly sessions on holidays or in the evening will also make it easier for members of the local community to participate. This will raise the local people’s consciousness of issues affecting their community.
This problem is not limited to women. There needs to be an environment conducive for people facing various problems, such as poverty or social disparity, to become lawmakers. This will also contribute to creating open local assemblies.
Many countries have a “quota system” that reserves a certain number of seats for women. A survey conducted by Tokyo Shimbun on all female members of local assemblies in Tokyo shows that 40% are in favor of this idea, while over 30% are against. There is also the “multiple choice ballot system” designed to reflect the complex will of the voters.
According to the Japan Center for Women and Governance, Japan’s conservative tradition and culture and constraints of local human relationships are still preventing women from running for public office.
One idea is to hold study meetings on politics in the local women’s centers for students and the general public to find out about issues affecting the community.
The ratio of female members in the Tama City assembly in Tokyo is now 40%, compared to about 10% 27 years ago. We should persist in trial and error in our effort to increase the number of female lawmakers.