National

Japan fails to shine in annual report on women's participation in politics

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

As the world marks International Women’s Day on Thursday, an annual report shows again that Japan lags far behind other countries for women’s participation in politics.

Japan ranked 158th among 193 countries surveyed by an international organization for representation of women in national parliaments in 2017.

The nation’s moved up slightly from its position in the previous survey, in 163rd place. But despite a campaign by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to increase the number of women in leadership roles in society, the survey results suggest progress has been limited.

“In Japan, the question of women’s political leadership was seen more as a hot political discussion point than an action point,” noted the report released last week by the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union.

At the Diet, only 10.1 percent of Lower House seats and 20.7 percent of Upper House seats were filled by female lawmakers according to the report called “Women in parliament in 2017.”

Rwanda topped the list, with women occupying 49 of 80 seats in the country’s lower chamber, followed by Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Sweden. France sat at 14th, the United Kingdom at 39th and the United States at 100th.

Among major economies, Japan ranked dead last.

The ranking for Japan was also much lower than those for neighboring countries, with China landing in the 71st slot and South Korea coming in 116th.

To have more “meaningful” representation of women in politics, without female politicians simply fulfilling male gender roles, “It’s important to have recruiters who are mindful of gender equality,” said Masumi Minagawa, a part-time lecturer in women’s studies at Waseda University.

Shin Ki-Young, an associate professor of gender studies at Ochanomizu University, highlighted that the balance women often seek between their personal and working lives cannot be achieved simply by fulfilling a male gender role in the workplace.

“As long as fulfilling a leadership role means giving up on a ‘private’ life and adapting to a male way of working” women will feel hesitant about pursuing a career, Shin added, noting that “what we need is a working environment that is accommodating” to all sorts of lifestyles and accepts diversity.

The Japanese prime minister has often spoken of a society “where all women can shine” and has pledged to create an environment in which they can have a better work-life balance.

In 2003, the government set a target for Japan to have women in 30 percent of leadership roles by 2020.

A government report issued last year showed that the target has been reached in only a few sectors.

While women’s participation has improved at central government levels, it remains very low in both municipal governments and the private sector.