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Another low for Japan’s gender gap, as only 15% of election candidates are female


Staff Writer

So much for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call to empower women.

Only 15 percent of candidates running in this election from mainstream parties are female.

In a count Tuesday, only 169 of the 1,093 candidates from eight major parties were women — far short of the administration’s stated goal of having 30 percent of public- and private-sector leadership positions filled with women by 2020.

And the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is one of the worst offenders. Of its 352 candidates, only 42, or 12 percent, are female.

Voters would be forgiven for thinking the party has dropped its so-called ‘womenomics’ cause for now. Despite repeated pledges by Abe to create a society where “all women can shine,” the party’s campaign policy platform includes no concrete measure to improving the woefully low ratio of female lawmakers.

A 2014 report on the gender gap by the World Economic Forum said Japan has one of the worst levels of gender equality in the developed world, ranking it 104th of 142 countries assessed. The report, released in October, said the low percentage of female lawmakers in Japan remains one of the worst of any nation.

Among the eight biggest parties, the Japanese Communist Party has the highest ratio of females, with 79 of its 315 candidates, or 25 percent; followed by the Democratic Party of Japan with 29 out of 198 candidates, or 15 percent.

Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party) is fielding 20 candidates, of which three, or 15 percent, are women; Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) has nine female candidates out of 84; while Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, has only three women among its 51 candidates.

Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations) is fielding 48 candidates, of which three are female. The Social Democratic Party was able to field only one woman among its 25 candidates.

Observers say one factor behind the dismal showing is because the election was called so suddenly. The DPJ, the biggest opposition party, said in October that it planned to introduce quotas for female candidates and to field around one in three by the time of the next national election, but the snap election left too little time to prepare.

Before the Lower House was dissolved on Nov. 21, it had 39 female lawmakers, accounting for a mere 8.1 percent — placing Japan 134th in a survey of 189 countries by the Switzerland-based Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Mari Miura, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, believes there are not enough women in decision-making positions within the existing political parties.

“A political party works as a filter to choose its candidates. It selects candidates through the eyes of the party. And that party’s eyes are dominated mostly by men,” she said.

When choosing women candidates, those male lawmakers tend to look for renowned figures such as television newscasters to use them as icons to attract voters. And that narrows down the pool of prospective female candidates, Miura said.

The first step, she said, is to include and increase the number of women involved in the decision making process in political parties.

“I believe there is no difference in ability between women politicians and men. Yet female lawmakers make up only 8 percent,” Miura said. This “distorts policy making,” she added.

Mikiko Eto, a professor at Hosei University who specializes in gender and politics, said Japan needs to implement a quota system to boost the number of women in the Diet. Without such a system in politics, the genders will remain unequal, she said.