Two women have entered the race for the leadership of Japan's ruling party for the first time in its 66-year history, putting in the spotlight both the strides taken and the hurdles that still face female politicians in a country that lags far behind other nations on gender equality.

But despite the unprecedented female presence — making up half the four-person field — some experts say gender inequality will likely remain unaddressed as the Liberal Democratic Party is still heavily influenced by conservative male heavyweights.

Former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, 60, and Seiko Noda, 61, executive acting secretary-general of the LDP, are vying to become Japan's first female prime minister.