The sexist taunting of a female politician during a recent session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly drew rapid condemnation from some quarters, but little disbelief.
The problem is long-running and many victims tend to accept it and suffer in silence, some assembly members say.
Mitsuko Nishizaki, secretary-general of the Tokyo Seikatsusha Network political party, told The Japan Times that sneering, mockery and even overt sexual harassment is routine and often goes unreported.
In 2010, she said, a fellow assembly member shouted that Nishizaki “must enjoy being groped” when she voted against revising a youth ordinance to regulate extreme sexual images in manga and anime.
“It is difficult to address the jeers as an issue at the assembly meeting because you need to identify who made the remarks in order to initiate disciplinary measures,” Nishizaki said. “Unfortunately, I had to swallow my humiliation that time. There are many people like that.”
Yuki Mizuno, 31, a member of the Abiko Municipal Assembly in Chiba Prefecture, said fellow lawmakers had bullied and sexually harassed her on several occasions, with jeers such as, “You can’t get married.”
Mizuno also recalled being humiliated by a fellow female lawmaker. During a session in the assembly hall a year ago, the woman called out in a loud voice that she could see Mizuno’s underwear line and asked, “Are you menstruating today?”
“I’ve experienced pretty horrible bullying and sexual harassment and I think that there are many more cases,” said Mizuno, who lived in the U.S. as a child. “The treatment of women as inferior to men is still strong in Japan’s political world and I think that Japan has fallen way behind other countries.”
Nobuko Nakamura, a member of the Nakano Municipal Assembly in Tokyo, said on Twitter last week that she has been “told more than 100 times to quit as an assembly member and get married.”
“I think many female law-makers have had similar experiences and that’s why we must change the current state of politics,” Nakamura tweeted.
Liberal Democratic Party member Akihiro Suzuki admitted to some of the sexist sneering in the Tokyo assembly last week, and issued a public apology to the victim, Your Party lawmaker Ayaka Shiomura. The incident came at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP president, is pushing for greater inclusion of women in the workplace as a key part of his growth strategy.
“Even if the policy is to be implemented on a national level, it lacks credibility if the local members don’t have the same awareness. And if that’s the case, I think this growth strategy is just wishful thinking,” Mizuno said.