Nothing short of total upheaval could propel a woman to the top of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said in an interview.
Inada’s comments this week came in the wake of an uproar over sexism at the Tokyo Organising Committee this month. Separately, two new studies underscored how far Japan lags behind much of the world on gender equality.
"If the LDP hits a crisis, then women will be able to run,” Inada, 62, said Monday. "At the moment, the party doesn’t want to do anything that would involve extra effort. They want to maintain the status quo. But if they reach the point where they can’t win, I think women will have a chance.”
The LDP will face a fresh test of its appeal in a Lower House election that must be held by October. Before that, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will have to seek a new term as ruling party leader in September.
The government has for years sought to entice more women into the workplace to make up for an aging and shrinking population. But a campaign to have them take 30% of leadership positions in all fields by 2020 failed to make substantial progress in many sectors, including politics.
A new report issued by the World Bank this week ranked Japan 80th, tied with Vietnam and Colombia, among 190 countries in terms of laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunity — lower than the United Arab Emirates and down from 74th place last year. A separate report released by Grant Thornton on Monday found that women made up 15% of senior leaders in mid-market companies in Japan, compared with 48% in the Philippines.
Only one woman has ever thrown her hat into the ring for leadership of the LDP, which has been in power for all but about four of the last 66 years. In 2008, when the party was on the verge of losing power to the then-ascendant Democratic Party of Japan, Yuriko Koike, now the governor of Tokyo, launched a bid for the prime ministership and lost in a landslide.
Other women, including former internal affairs minister Seiko Noda, have expressed interest in running for the LDP leadership, but they have never marshaled the factional backing that is critical to success. Inada said she would like to take on the challenge, but that the environment was not in place for her to step forward now.
"In the end, the leadership election isn’t decided in the open, but behind closed doors,” Inada said. "If that’s the way they make their choice, then women don’t get much of a chance.”
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