Finance Minister Taro Aso’s apparent justification of sexual harassment committed by a former prominent bureaucrat topped a list of the most egregious sexist and discriminatory remarks made by Japanese politicians in 2018, according to a recent online survey.
The survey, released Wednesday, was launched late last year in the belief that the country’s entrenched sexism has been exacerbated by “politicians making sexist speeches that reinforce gender stereotypes, despite their purported roles as representatives of the public and their duty to make society better,” says its organizer, an eight-member group of scholars and lawyers.
The survey was conducted over nine days from Dec. 29 through Sunday and garnered 3,933 votes from 2,026 people. Each respondent was allowed to vote for a maximum of two of the 12 remarks selected by the organizer.
Aso’s comments regarding allegations leveled at former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Junichi Fukuda, who was accused of sexually harassing a female journalist, topped the list with 1,208 votes.
Aso was criticized for his unapologetic attitude and his apparent attempts to turn the blame around on the victim, who anonymously accused Fukuda of misconduct, such as reportedly suggesting she “could have left the scene if she hated” his attention that much or that the media “should only assign male reporters to the Finance Ministry” in the future to prevent a recurrence. He also drew fire by saying there is nothing his ministry can do unless the victim comes forward and identifies herself.
Many respondents cited Aso’s highly influential position and the significant weight of his words as a reason for their selection, the organizer said upon releasing the survey’s outcome online.
“The result shows many people objected to the fact that a person in power with huge social responsibility repeatedly made remarks effectively defending gender discrimination, and that people around him kept tolerating this,” the organizer said.
Running a close second was a remark made by Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Mio Sugita. The junior conservative lawmaker became the target of public outrage last year when she contributed a contentious article to the August issue of monthly magazine Shincho 45, where she labeled the LGBT community as “unproductive” in terms of childbirth.
Her assertion that taxpayer money shouldn’t be wasted on policies supporting same-sex couples due to what she called their lack of productivity soon ignited an outpouring of criticism and eventually led the magazine to effectively fold. Her comment garnered 1,045 votes.
Kanji Kato, another LDP lawmaker, collected 366 votes and placed third with his claim that married couples should have at least three children.
A spate of sexist incidents made headlines in Japan last year, including the systematic tampering of entrance exam scores by multiple medical universities to curb female enrollment. The nation also finished 110th out of 149 in the World Economic Forum’s global gender equality ranking for 2018.