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Female lawmakers on obstacles faced by women politicians

  • 2015-11-09 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: November 8, 2015 – p. 14)


 By Takashi Tsuji, Shotaro Miyasaka, Seiji Kojima


 The Abe administration advocates the empowerment of women in society and there has been an active debate on women’s participation in national politics. Female leaders are not unusual in foreign countries, and the U.S. Democratic Party’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is regarded as a frontrunner in the presidential election next year. Will Japan also be seeing a female prime minister in the near future? We interviewed Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Policy Research Council chair Tomomi Inada, former General Council chair Seiko Noda, and Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) “Acting President” Renho on this issue.


 Q: How come there has been no female prime minister in Japan?


 Inada: Probably because there is only a small number of women politicians, and a female prime minister does not seem to be conceivable. One does not become a prime minister by aspiring to be one. Such factors as ability, hard work, luck, and timing come into play. However, the conditions are becoming ripe.


 Renho: This is an old-yet-new issue. The political world is a workplace where the culture of male predominance is most pronounced. This is a sector where the most number of men are averse to working under a younger woman. Actually, compensation and terms for all Diet members are all the same. That is why male predominance is sustained based on such criteria as seniority, age, and gender.


 Noda: As early as the 1960s, some foreign countries have put in place systems to promote women’s social participation. Japan has not done anything. In the political arena, in particular, there is still a strong perception among LDP members that politics is for men. There are even female Diet members who believe so.


 Q: The ratio of female lawmakers has failed to increase dramatically.


 Renho: When a woman wants to become a politician, her parents, spouse, or partner try to stop her. This is the most difficult part. Since there are only a small number of female Diet members, no much progress has been made in the reform of work culture.


 Inada: It is also necessary to come up with policies based on the physical differences between men and women in order to empower women. It is essential to increase the number of female lawmakers in order to incorporate the viewpoint of women, who constitute half of the population.


 Q: How can the ratio of women be increased?


 Noda: Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has come up with a target for women’s empowerment, something needs to be done. Talking in idealistic terms, such as women’s willpower or men’s compassion, will not work.


 Renho: Political parties need to make efforts. With the population declining, ideas with a male bias will no longer work in politics.


 Inada: Political parties should assess and analyze the situation, develop action plans, and study systems to give material and moral support to female candidates. A mechanism for the party to increase the number of candidates should also be considered.


 Q: Do you think a “quota system” of setting a certain ratio of female candidates in national elections should be introduced?


 Renho: The DPJ will work for the introduction of such a system. The number of women will be increased but the criteria for judging their ability will also be applied. I think this will be a test of whether we are able to break down the wall of precedents. The problem is whether we can find enough candidates.


 Noda: We need to increase the number by introducing a quota system. This should be included in the policies for empowering all citizens. This will be difficult to achieve because certain old Diet members complain that this is reverse discrimination and some female lawmakers agree with them.


 Inada: It may be difficult to require a certain ratio of women all at once.


 Q: Do you like the Prime Minister’s women’s empowerment policy?


 Inada: It is of great significance that the Prime Minister talks about this frequently. The Abe administration’s policy to empower women is attracting attention internationally and a law for the promotion of this policy has been enacted.


 Noda: This policy is very important. As soon as the law laying down the doctrine was enacted, they are now talking about empowering all citizens instead of empowering women. This cannot help being criticized as deception.


 Q: When do you think Japan will have a female prime minister?


 Inada: Ms. Yuriko Koike once ran for LDP president and Ms. Noda is planning to do so. This is no longer an era where a woman cannot make the challenge just because she is a woman.


 Noda: I really hope that Ms. Clinton will become the president. If the U.S. has a female leader, this will have an impact on the whole world. Japan may have [a female prime minister] three years from now (when the term of the current LDP president expires).


 Renho: It’s a shame Ms. Noda did not run in the previous election. If Ms. Clinton becomes the president, it will also have a strong impact on Japan.


 Q: Do you want to be the first female prime minister of Japan?


 Noda: I have worked very hard to become the prime minister. As I was looking at the possibility of running in the previous election, I really felt that the people around me are very important. There was tremendous pressure. Many people who supported me got into trouble or were attacked. You can’t become a prime minister just because you aspire to be one.


 Inada: I think all politicians have the ambition to become prime minister. One can only become the prime minister as a result of the convergence of necessity and chance. For now, I am just going to be myself and work hard on my immediate tasks.


 Renho: I wanted to run in the previous DPJ leader election but I could not obtain 20 endorsements. I was not good enough. I cannot become a prime minister unless there is a change of administration. I hope that we can take over power while (the LDP’s women) are still dilly-dallying.

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