Reports indicate Yoshiro Mori will resign as president of the Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee. He should have quit or been forced out within hours of the appalling comments he made about women last week.
There are two possible explanations for the delay. The first is that the country’s political leadership does not consider those comments as cause to remove him from that post. The second is that they do not have the power to do so. While neither reflects well on them, we hope the answer is the second, a failure of capacity, rather than the first, a failure of will.
Controversy erupted last week when Mori, during an online Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) meeting, said that women in board meetings “take too much time” as a comment upon a Japanese government initiative to increase the number of women on executive boards. “Women have a strong sense of competition,” and “speak so much.”
An uproar ensued, and the next day, Mori sought to clean up the mess, apologizing, expressing remorse for and withdrawing the remarks. He said that he had “no intention to disparage women,” and that his comments violated the Olympic spirit. Still, he professed his intention to remain in his position. The following night, he suggested that any remorse was tactical or insincere, noting that, “Withdrawing my remarks was the fastest way (to deal with a problem).”
This insult to women should come as no surprise. Mori’s political career has been studded with offensive comments: making light of AIDS victims, disparaging single women or calling Japan “a divine nation with the emperor at its center.” That statement violated the Constitution, which identifies the emperor as the head of state and disavows his divinity — and was made when Mori was serving as prime minister, the sworn protector of the Constitution.
Mori’s year as prime minister was marred by controversy. He was reportedly selected to succeed Keizo Obuchi, who had been incapacitated by a stroke, in an emergency closed-door meeting of party bigwigs. After being informed that a United States submarine collided with and sunk a Japanese fisheries training vessel, killing nine students and teachers, he continued his game of golf. By the time he left office, his Cabinet approval rating had plummeted to 9%.
That past did not deter the selection committee — representing the Japanese government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese Olympic Committee — from picking Mori in 2014 to head the Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee. Mori claimed the post because of his long involvement in sports, his political and business networks at home and overseas and a reputation for getting things done. It was also reported that two other candidates turned down the job.
The readiness to turn a blind eye to Mori’s history of gaffes anticipated the official response to his most recent blunder. The JOC said that it supported diversity. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the remarks were “against the national interest” but followed up by stating at the Diet that he was “unfamiliar with the details of the remarks.” He then took refuge in a statement from the International Olympic Committee that declared the issue “closed.” Other officials have pointed to Mori’s retraction of his comments, saying that it is enough.
No, it isn’t.
Mori’s comments and the quiet but unmistakable support they enjoy among Japan’s elite are proof yet again of Japan’s pervasive sexism. Discrimination against women in this country is a structural problem.
According to the World Economic Forum, Japan ranks 121st of 153 countries in gender equality. In politics, just two of 20 Cabinet posts are held by women. Only 40 of 391 LDP parliamentarians — slightly more than 10% — are women. Women are denied employment and education opportunities, and as a result Japan has the sixth lowest score in the U.N.’s Gender Inequality Index ranking of women in the labor force. Human rights organizations warn that this attitude toward women results in abuse and stigmatization.
The public has had enough with this disrespect and disregard for women. The country has been embarrassed again by an antediluvian politician, with media at home and abroad condemning Mori’s remarks and the mindset it represents. Polls show that more than half the Japanese public agreed that Mori was “not qualified” for his organizing committee job.
Resignation is the only option for such a lapse in judgment. His continued tenure as organizing committee chief was an offense to women. It undermines one of the most important messages of the Olympic Games — the equality of all participants and the empowerment and opportunities that creates.
Remarkably, Mori was not removed from his position. But then, Mori was chosen precisely because he was a powerful person behind the screen and the current government cannot afford to antagonize him. Moreover, they seem to share his thinking. There is little commitment to gender equality in Japan — at least among those who already have power, and would thus be forced to share it.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to pursue womenomics and elevate the role of women in the economy, setting a target for women to hold 30% of corporate management jobs by 2020. That goal was repeatedly moved back and then abandoned. Today, just 12% of those jobs go to women.
Abe sought to ensure that Japan was a “first-tier” country. He recognized that to do so, Japan had to have gender equality — not just for the image — but because it was needed to unleash the country’s hidden potential. Mori’s comments and all that has followed shows just how far this country still has to go.
The Japan Times Editorial Board
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