Despite repeated calls by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to bolster women’s roles in society, Japan fell further in a ranking of female lawmakers, dropping seven slots to 163rd out of 193 countries in 2016, according to a report released Tuesday by the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Japan was ranked 156th out of 191 nations surveyed the previous year.
It lagged far behind a number of other industrialized nations, including Germany, in the No. 23 slot, the U.K., ranked 47th, and the U.S., in the No. 104 slot.
Japan’s neighbors also retained higher positions in the ranking, with China coming in 74th and South Korea in the No. 116 slot.
Rwanda topped the survey, with women holding 61 percent of seats, followed by Bolivia, with 53 percent, and Cuba with 49 percent.
The report, titled “Women in Parliament in 2016,” also showed that the worldwide average of women in national parliaments increased to 23.3 percent by the end of 2016 from 22.6 percent the previous year.
But in Japan’s powerful Lower House, where Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party holds a strong majority, women held just 44 seats, accounting for a mere 9.3 percent in the 475-seat chamber.
By party, the Japanese Communist Party had the highest ratio, with women representing 28.6 percent of its Lower House members. It was followed by the Democratic Party at 9.4 percent and the ruling LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito, which each had 8.6 percent.
Women fared better in the 242-seat Upper House, holding 50 seats, or 20.6 percent of the total.
“In Japan, women’s fight for political inclusion is not only one against an electoral system … it is also a struggle against a relatively conservative society, with strongly entrenched gender roles,” the report said.
Despite the poor ranking, Katsunobu Kato, minister in charge of female empowerment, boasted in a statement issued on Wednesday to mark International Women’s Day that Japan has been “a leader in creating international opportunities to promote the empowerment of women.”
As an example of such “leadership,” Kato referred to Japan’s role as host nation for the Group of Seven summit held last year in Ise-Shima, Mie Prefecture, where world leaders discussed how best to empower women.
“The groundswell of women’s empowerment is growing,” Kato added. “We will continue our tireless efforts to create greater and broader opportunities.”
Meanwhile, the ruling and opposition parties are set to submit to the Diet a bill aiming to increase the number of female candidates in elections.
The landmark legislation obliges political parties to make efforts to field “as equal as possible” a ratio of female and male candidates in local and national elections. But as it stipulates intent and does not include punitive provisions its effectiveness remains unclear.
“The real challenge is from now on,” DP President Renho said last month.”Once the bill is enacted, I hope each political party will make proactive efforts (to increase the ratio of female candidates).”
In the 2016 Upper House election, the ratio of female candidates was 25 percent, with the JCP topping the list at 36 percent. It was followed by the DP’s 20 percent and the LDP’s 16 percent
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