National / Politics

Diet bill set to address low number of women in Japanese politics

Kyodo

A group of multiparty lawmakers will submit to the Diet this year a bill aimed at dealing with the low representation of women in Japanese politics, which puts the country near the bottom of global rankings on the issue, political sources said Wednesday.

However, the bill will only ask political parties to “make efforts” to field men and women in equal numbers as candidates in national and local elections, and will not penalize those who fall short of the target.

Among politicians who have been working on the bill are Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who also serves as minister for gender equality, and Masaharu Nakagawa, a Lower House member of the opposition Democratic Party.

The ruling and opposition parties submitted similar bills to the ordinary session of the Diet last year and were set to unify the draft legislation, but the two sides ditched the plan after allegations of cronyism against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took center stage in parliament. The bills were scrapped after dissolution of the Lower House.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of national parliaments which is based in Geneva, women accounted for only 9.3 percent of Japan’s lower house members before the election in October last year, putting the country 165th among 193 countries.

The ratio grew slightly to 10.1 percent after the election, but is far from the government’s 30 percent goal. Tokyo said it will attempt to achieve the goal by 2020.

In campaigns for the October election, many political parties pledged to increase the number of women in politics.

But of the 332 people who ran in the election as official LDP candidates only 25, or 7.5 percent, were women — the lowest rate among major political parties.

The highest representation was the 24.4 percent seen in the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, compared with the 17.7 percent of female candidates seen among all those in the election.

Women’s representation is equally low at Japanese regional assemblies.

According to statistics compiled by the internal affairs ministry in 2016 women accounted for 10 percent of members of prefectural assemblies, 15 percent of city and ward assemblies, and 10 percent of town and village assemblies.

There were no women in 32 percent of Japan’s town and village assemblies.

Commenting on the planned non-binding bill, Reiko Oyama, a professor of political systems at Komazawa University, said it is still a positive “first step” because voters will find it easier to demand political parties increase female candidates.

Mieko Nakabayashi, a professor of international public policies at Waseda University, said voters should demand parties choose “women who can represent as candidates the interests of women, not those who will be puppets of senior officials with an old sense of values.”