During the last Diet session, lawmakers passed the revised Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field, which included measures against the harassment of female candidates.
While female candidates are on the campaign trail, some voters inappropriately touch them, pry into their private affairs, or ask them out for a drink. Some of them even sabotage the candidate’s campaign. Female candidates often avoid making these incidents public, however, out of fear of losing votes.
As the Lower House election approaches, we should be aware of the issue of “harassment by voters.”
Upper House member Arimura Haruko of the Liberal Democratic Party: Don’t tolerate inappropriate treatment!
In 2001 when I was 30 years old, I ran for the Upper House for the first time and won the election. I had neither political backing nor name recognition, and that meant the only gatherings I was invited to were drinking parties at night. Often, drunken men reached out to touch me inappropriately. Many who wanted to be photographed with me grabbed my waist, and their hands slid downward.
Although it was shocking to me that women and young [male] candidates had to deal with such invisible handicaps in order to work in the field of politics, this is the reality that has been tormenting many candidates and members of national and local assemblies, no matter what generation or political party they belong to.
I served as the first Minister in charge of Women’s Empowerment and was chair of the LDP Policy Board in the Upper House. After 18 years since my first victory at the polls, I finally raised the issue of “harassment by voters” at a Diet session.
“It will hinder the healthy development of democracy if society tacitly allows the unfair practice of harassment based on the assumption that voters can do anything they want to candidates.” I put much thought into how to present this message clearly, defiantly, and unemotionally. A live broadcast of the Diet interpellations on the issue struck a chord with people nationwide. I believe that the Japanese people felt it refreshing that the initiative came from a conservative politician like me.
Female politicians in Japan are still a minority. Many of us who have had horrible experiences and yet successfully overcame the male-centered system are battle-hardened and have a lot of grit. That in itself is not a bad thing because our resilience is proof that we have overcome these negative experiences and are striving to make the best of our circumstances.
However, society is not composed of tough female fighters only. Ordinary people, including women and young men leading honest lives, should be able to participate in politics. To this end, we should build a healthy democracy where no candidate faces harassment from voters.
Election Strategy Committee Chair Kishimoto Shuhei of the Democratic Party for the People: “Pity-based democracy”
I ran for the Upper House in my home prefecture of Wakayama after working as a bureaucrat. I lost the first election but won on my second attempt. While campaigning, I encountered a voter who tore up my policy pamphlet in front of me, stamped on it, and then spat on it. Some intentionally stepped hard on my foot, and some elbowed me when I was in a crowd. I don’t see it as harassment if voters shout at me to “move out of the way” or “shut up” while I am campaigning on street corners. I understand some people who are hurrying to get to work feel annoyed by people who are making a lot of noise and taking up valuable sidewalk space.
However, voters who are violent or sexually harass candidates are crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Female candidates have been sexually harassed by supporters who touch them inappropriately at parties where alcohol is served as well as on other occasions. This is harassment of people in weaker positions. In this respect, putting up with harassment from voters out of fear of losing votes is similar to tolerating harassment from superiors at the workplace.
I think this is part of what I call “pity-based democracy.” A candidate gets votes only when voters can position themselves above the candidate. Candidates don’t receive votes because they are capable or are of upright character. In other words, voters support a candidate when they feel the candidate is trying hard but is ineffective and needs their help. This is what I have come to believe after 12 years as a legislator. This mentality may be partially responsible for the harassment of candidates.
This is not the case, however, for political thoroughbreds, who are second- and third-generation politicians. Their election victories come from having strong backing and a well-known family name.
I want to encourage young candidates to raise the issue of harassment and not suffer in silence. I hope they will not cower when confronted with negative reactions from voters but will handle them in a dignified manner. (Abridged)