At least half of Japanese citizens are women, so around half the members of the national legislature should be women. That’s only natural.
However, women make up only about 10% of the House of Representatives and around 20% of the House of Councillors. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union headquartered in Geneva, Japan ranks 164th out of 193 countries in terms of the proportion of women it has in its lower house.
This gender disparity has remained unchanged for years. What has come in the way of significant progress are men’s entrenched interests, the unfair systems and customs that protect such interests, and the public’s awareness — or rather, the lack thereof.
Japan faces myriad challenges resulting from depopulation and the aging of society. If the country fails to make full use of women as valuable human resources in the political arena, such problems will never be resolved.
In May 2018, legislation urging political parties to field equal numbers of men and women as candidates in Diet and local assembly elections was passed in the Diet. It aims to bring parity to the numbers of male and female candidates that run for public office.
The upcoming House of Councillors poll is the first national election since the new law came into force. Among the major opposition parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) have fielded a majority of female candidates, at 71% and 55%, respectively. With women comprising 45% of its candidates, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) has almost reached gender parity.
The problem is with the ruling bloc. Female candidates of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito make up only 15% and 8%, respectively, of all their candidates, dipping below their rates in the previous election.
At a debate among party leaders hosted by the Japan National Press Club (JNPC), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is also the president of the LDP, admitted, “We would have to accept criticism that we have not made enough of an effort (toward gender parity among candidates).”
It has already been 6 1/2 years since Abe came to power. And the administration has held as one of its most important policies the realization of “a society in which all women can shine.”
There’s no point in inviting well-renowned women to international conferences or advocating for “women’s participation (in society)” in speeches, if you don’t select enough women to become candidates to represent the Japanese public.
To increase the number of female candidates, there will naturally be a need for new candidates. It’s a difficult choice to make, knowing that there will be men who are voted out of office if more women are to be voted in. But there is no way to bring about significant change to the whole political arena if the largest party does not make an all-out effort to change itself.
In reference to the House of Councillors election that will take place three years from now, Prime Minister Abe has only gone so far as to say that he would put his efforts into raising the percentage of female candidates to at least 20%. Does this mean that if we leave it up to the parties to make gender parity a reality, we can’t expect much? If that’s the case, then we must amend the law to make gender parity a requirement.
Women, too, must do more than wait for change. They must become actively involved not only in elections, but in politics in general. That, too, will lead to more female legislators.