National / Politics

Women Political Leaders summit opens ahead of G20 as Abe pushes to improve gender parity

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe renewed his commitment to empower women and improve gender parity around the globe at the Women Political Leaders (WPL) Summit 2019 in Tokyo on Wednesday, ahead of the Group of 20 summit due to start Friday in Osaka.

Speaking to female politicians gathered for the two-day summit via a prerecorded video, Abe said that “societal change is possible if there is a clear vision coupled with concrete action.” He added that he will ask G20 leaders to commit to providing an additional 4 million young women with at least 12 years of high-quality education by 2020, and reducing the workforce participation gap between men and women by 25 percent by 2025.

The WPL started its annual two-day summit — the first to be held in Asia — on Wednesday. Nearly 400 participants, mostly including female political leaders, from 87 countries have gathered to discuss this year’s theme — taking action to advance society toward the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In addition to taking place on the eve of the G20 summit, the event is also being held during Japan’s government-designated annual Gender Equality Week.

WPL President Silvana Koch-Mehrin reiterated the importance of women’s rights in relation to achieving the SDGs, saying that “in every one of those 17 SDG goals, women can gain. There is of course the specific goal for equality between women and men, but all other goals have the importance of women recognized — and women’s views as being key to — any improvement in the other 16 policy areas.”

House of Representatives speaker Tadamori Oshima echoed that sentiment, saying in his opening statement that “the opinions and insight of women will be essential to the achievement of the SDGs.”

“Having female leaders exchange opinions here at this summit will not only give us insight into what concrete actions are needed to achieve the SDGs, but also improve the visibility of female politicians,” he added.

That being said, Oshima raised concerns regarding the lack of female representation in Japanese politics. “It’s true that women in Japan have not thrived in the realm of politics in comparison to other countries,” he said, noting that the situation persists despite “an increasing awareness in recent years of the lack of diversity in politics.”

Abe first touted his womenomics policy six years ago, pledging to create a society “where women can shine” and take on more leadership roles within the workplace while maintaining a work-life balance.

However, the nation continues to struggle with realizing the kind of changes Abe may have hoped for when he first promised better gender parity.

Japan has continued to languish in recent years in the World Economic Forum’s annual World Gender Gap Index, consistently ranking below 100 in recent years. The most recent report, published in 2018, ranked the nation 110 out of 149 countries in terms of gender parity.

Political participation has been particularly low, with women representing a mere 10 percent of 463 seats in the Lower House. Female representation is higher in the Upper House, but still hovers around the 20 percent mark.

In a bid to boost female participation and achieve better gender parity in politics, the government enacted the Law on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field last year. The law urges organizations and institutions such as government, political parties and local municipalities to make an effort to achieve an equal number of male and female political candidates.

However, the law falls short of setting quotas or including obligations, and has been criticized by some as merely a symbolic measure without any teeth.

The WPL is a network of women who hold political office across the globe, and aims to increase female participation and empower women in politics.

On Saturday they will submit the outcome of the meeting to Abe, who is set to host the G20 summit.