When Helen Clark was first elected to New Zealand's parliament in 1981, she was one of only eight female lawmakers among the 92 representatives. Now, women account for nearly 38 percent of the parliament, including a new prime minister who is expected to deliver a baby this month.

Clark, who was prime minister from 1999 to 2008, said that New Zealand's political scene has come a long way to become gender-friendly and that it is time for Japan to push harder to increase female representation in the Diet and its companies.

"I think women have to come forward, and obviously it's good if men make them welcome. I think political parties have to try harder to recruit women," Clark told The Japan Times during a visit to Tokyo late last month.