One of the big issues facing Japan is how to improve economic conditions. The situation in which Japanese women find themselves should not be forgotten. Generally women’s pay is lower than men’s for similar jobs.
Many women with high academic credentials often cannot find decent jobs. In addition, women bear the burden of child rearing and taking care of elderly family members far more often than men. The government must find ways to ensure that women’s voices are reflected at all levels of Japanese society.
One way to achieve that would be by increasing the number of female decision makers. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe originally thought of appointing five women in the 18-member Cabinet. He ended up appointing only two women. By contrast, the first Cabinet formed under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2001 included five women. Succeeding Cabinets have not matched this number.
In its campaign for the Dec. 16 Lower House election, the Liberal Democratic Party proposed raising the percentage of women in decision-making positions to 30 percent or more in every field by 2020. This goal coincided with one the government had decided on earlier. In 2005, the government included the same goal in a Cabinet-endorsed basic plan to push gender equality. Later, the government decided to call on political parties to introduce a numerical target or a quota system for candidates in Diet elections.
Unfortunately, however, little progress has been made. Before the Lower House was dissolved on Nov. 16, there were 54 female lawmakers in the Diet chamber. After the Dec. 16 election, the number decreased to 38, or 7.9 percent of the Lower House members. Japan ranks 127th among 187 countries in female parliamentary representation.
There is no sign that the Diet will discuss a quota system for women lawmakers — unlike Japan’s neighbor South Korea. In that country, under law, a list of candidates for proportional representation in a national legislature election must contain the same number of male and female candidates. This has eased women’s increased participation in the world of politics. The election of Ms. Park Geun Hye as South Korea’s next president should be interpreted as the culmination of this participation.
In France, President Francois Hollande in May fulfilled his promise of choosing women for half of the Cabinet posts. Ms. Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, while in Tokyo in October to attend an IMF general meeting, stressed the important role woman can play in revitalizing the Japanese economy.
Japanese leaders should take her view seriously and make concrete efforts to give full play to women’s potential. They should also work to reduce the prevalence of sexual assaults against women. Freedom from the fear of such attacks is an indicator of the overall health of society.