NEW YORK – While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to empower women, the country continues to rank poorly in the number of female Diet members — placing 127th, far below China, South Korea and even North Korea, a global U.N. survey released Tuesday showed.
“It is going to require a very substantial rethinking in Japan about how we do politics and that is really the challenge of the prime minister,” said Anders Johnsson, the Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of national parliaments.
IPU and U.N. Women jointly launched the Women in Politics Map 2014 based on data up to Jan. 1, 2014. Compiled annually, the map tracks women’s political progress and last year reported that Japan ranked slightly higher at No. 122.
Abe took to the global stage last September during the annual U.N. General Assembly, pledging to seek greater participation by women in Japan and also around the world.
His words were not lost on Johnsson, who said the speech showed the leader’s commitment, but stressed that the promise needed to be followed up with improvements in the number of female politicians.
“That speech now has to be translated in the political parties,” he noted. “In Japan, like in many other countries, the gatekeepers are the political parties, they have to bring in more women into the parties, they have to give them leadership roles in the parties, they have to think about them when they are fielding candidates.”
In the list of the percentage of women in unicameral parliaments or lower houses of the bodies, Rwanda leads the world with the highest percentage of female lawmakers, with more than 63 percent represented in its lower house.
While Sweden and Finland rank No. 4 and No. 8, respectively, the U.S. was tied with San Marino at No. 83.
Among Japan’s closest neighbors, China was ranked No. 61, South Korea No. 91, followed by North Korea at No. 92.
Following the 2012 election that brought Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party to power, women comprised just 8.1 percent of lawmakers in the House of Representatives, pushing Japan down to the 127th slot.
In a separate IPU report, “Women in Parliament in 2013” the Asian region was described as having “stunted progress,” recording virtually no improvement. Overall, women’s average share of parliamentary seats in the region was just 18.4 percent.
Worldwide, however, 2013 broke previous records for women’s parliamentary participation, with the percentage of seats occupied rising to 21.8 percent.