WASHINGTON – With the number of women running for U.S. Congress hitting a record high in the Nov. 6 midterm elections, the growing participation of women in American politics may prompt a change in the male-dominated political and business circles in Japan, according to U.S. and Japanese experts on women’s leadership.
“I do think the increase in women running in the United States has an opportunity to do a role modeling effect in Japan,” said Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, a New York-based organization dedicated to bringing black women into politics and elected office.
Possibly in protest over U.S. President Donald Trump’s derogatory remarks against women and his scandals over alleged sexual harassment, data shows a record 237 women — 185 Democrats and 52 Republicans — are running for the 435-seat House of Representatives, up from the previous high of 167 in 2016, in what’s being called a “pink wave.”
A record 23 women — 15 Democrats and eight Republicans — are also campaigning for 35 of the 100 Senate seats up for grabs, up from 18 in 2012, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
When Japanese women see more American women running and winning, “they can see the possibility that exists” and this could inspire them to run, Carr said on the sidelines of a recent event in Washington.
The Rutgers body said the United States is “on track to see a record number of women” in Congress, but that “achieving gender parity in Congress will take more than one election cycle.”
Women’s political representation in the United States is not as high as many might think, with the percentage of female members in the House of Representatives at 19.6 percent as of Sept. 1.
But the figure is still higher than the 10.1 percent in the Lower House of the Diet.
The percentage of female members in the Senate came to 23.2 percent, compared to 20.7 percent in the Diet’s Upper House, according to data by the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Mari Miura, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, expressed hope for an increase in women leaders in the United States. “If we hear more voices directly coming from women in the United States, that will empower more women in Japan,” she said in a telephone interview.
Miura said it is imperative that women be well represented in decision-making bodies, otherwise issues of women’s concern — such as sexual harassment, pay gaps with men and, particularly in Japan, declining birth rates — would not come to the fore.
Enthusiasm among young women voters and political activists is also a key part of the women’s movement in the United States.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, certainty to vote is up 32 points among women younger than 40, compared with 2014, the year of the last midterm elections.
Among registered voters, 59 percent of women favor Democratic House candidates while 37 percent prefer Republicans, the poll shows.
Citing the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, analysts said women backing female Democratic candidates oppose Trump’s dealings with women and other issues such as health care. GOP-leaning women are also uncomfortable with the way the president treats women, but they tend to pay more attention to the upbeat economy and historically low unemployment levels.
Asked what Japan can learn from the United States to boost women’s political participation, Miura cited political training programs and a greater role for women activists in civil society.
“The United States is a leading country in terms of political training programs for women, as well as other leadership training, an initiative that helps women aspiring to run for office,” she said. “I think we need to create and expand those programs in Japan.”
In this context, Miura welcomed Japan’s gender parity law, new legislation that requires local governments to expand support for recruitment and training for women wishing to enter politics.
Cynthia Terrell, a U.S.-based advocate for rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership, points out that the single-member district electoral system mainly used in Japan’s Lower House makes it difficult for women candidates to win more seats.
She suggested a broader use of the proportional representation system could raise women’s representation to a 20 percent level, as in the upper chamber.