To help meet the United Nations’ 2030 sustainable development goal for gender equality and empowering all women and girls, Japan needs more female politicians, especially at the local level.

That was one of the recommendations civil society leaders and residents in the Kansai region discussed at the first Kansai Sustainable Development Goals Citizens Agenda meeting in Osaka earlier this month.

When world leaders gather in Osaka for the Group of 20 summit in June 2019, discussions will include the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has hinted that one of the 17 development goals, women’s empowerment, may be on the official agenda, which is expected to be formalized after the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in December.

Recommendations from civil society groups in Japan, including some of those who participated in the Sept. 11 meeting, will form part of Japan’s approach to the summit and broader domestic policies to achieve the SDGs as a whole.

“One of the issues that can lead to gender equality is a system that promotes the participation of women in politics, and Japan has been insufficient in this regard,” says Atsuko Miwa, director of the Osaka-based Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center. Miwa is closely involved with civil society preparations for the G20 summit .

Statistics compiled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications show that as of Dec. 31, only 264 of 2,614 prefectural assembly members, or 10.1 percent, were women.

While 28.6 percent of Tokyo’s assembly members were women, the figure in second place Kyoto was only 19 percent. In 28 of the 47 prefectures, the ratio was under 10 percent. In Osaka Prefecture, ranked 40th nationwide, only four of the 86 members are women.

The figure is only slightly better at the municipal and ward assembly level, where 2,855 out of the 19,103 members, or 14.9 percent, were women.

Tokyo again held the top spot, with women holding 28.1 percent of the seats. Saitama Prefecture was in second place, with female assembly members in its cities and wards accounting for 21.3 percent of the total. Osaka, poorly represented in the prefectural assembly, finished third, with 163 of its 804 city and ward assembly members, or 20.3 percent, women.

At the national level, only 10.1 percent of the Diet members were women as of the end of 2017, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of national parliaments that is based in Geneva. Japan was ranked 165th among 193 countries.

With a round of nationwide local elections scheduled just two months before the G20 summit, the timing appears right for Japan to show the world in Osaka that it’s making progress on gender equality. Not only in the urban economic arena, where much government, media, and corporate attention is focused, but in prefectures, towns and villages facing rapidly aging, declining populations, and wondering whether they will be extinct when the world meets in 2030 to judge which SDGs were met.

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