The unified series of local elections in April will be the first nationwide voting to take place since legislation aimed at closing the gender gap in politics was enacted last year. Though nonbinding, the legislation urges political parties to equalize as much as possible the number of male and female candidates that they field in national and local elections and to make plans to achieve that. Behind the enactment of the law is the sluggish representation of women in the Diet and local assemblies — accounting for a mere 10 percent on average — a rate that lags behind most other countries. The upcoming races will test whether the parties — which unanimously endorsed the legislation in the Diet last May — take the gender gap as a serious issue that needs to be fixed.

Japan ranked 165th among the 193 countries in the world in terms of women’s parliamentary representation in a report compiled by the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union. According to the IPU report, women occupied an average of 24.3 percent of the seats in lower or single parliamentary chambers in the countries surveyed in 2018, an increase of 13 points from 1995. Japan, where women account for a mere 10.2 percent of Lower House members, was outranked by every other Group of 20 country.

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