National / Politics | CABINET INTERVIEW 2017

Internal affairs minister Noda eyes telecommuting to boost women's empowerment

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

Newly appointed Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda said she wants to take the initiative to promote teleworking to pave the way for more flexible working environments.

Noda, 56, whose son is developmentally disabled, said the practice, also known as telecommuting, can be a huge help for women who juggle work and family commitments.

“I have a six-year-old child. And I also have to be a nurse and a caregiver to look after my son. It’s a heavy burden. So I want to make the most of ICT (information and communication technology) to balance work (and my family),” Noda said during a joint interview Tuesday with The Japan Times and other media outlets. “If I can balance these things, I believe any women can.”

The ministry has been promoting telecommuting since 2015 as a way to change people’s working styles and ease heavy transport congestion ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. As of September 2016, about 13.3 percent of businesses had implemented the system, according to a ministry survey. The government aims to increase the figure to over 30 percent by 2020.

Noda, who doubles as minister in charge of women’s empowerment, said she will continue her efforts to increase the proportion of female lawmakers in Japan’s male-dominated political hub at Nagatacho.

“It’s been more than 70 years since women gained suffrage in Japan. Still, women account for less than 10 percent of the Lower House,” Noda lamented. “Women still are minorities in the world of politics.”

Currently women account for a mere 9 percent in the powerful 475-seat Lower House.

In a bid to change the status quo, a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Noda submitted a bill to the Diet earlier this year to oblige political parties to try to make the ratio of female and male candidates in local and national elections “as equal as possible.” Noda hopes to enact the bill in the extraordinary Diet session this fall.

Although the bill does not include any punitive provisions, Noda said the legislation will help raise people’s awareness about the gender gap in politics.

“Many still think politics are for men,” Noda said. But changing that mindset could also change the way people see women in business, she said.