A bill on gender equality in politics, which is aimed at encouraging women to run for public office, has been unanimously passed into law. The legislative branch of the government has thus expressed its enthusiasm about changing the Diet and local assemblies where men are predominant. Whether political parties can take specific measures to that end will be called into question.
The legislation urges political parties to try to field equal numbers of men and women as their candidates in Diet and local assembly elections as much as possible.
The low ratio of female members of the Diet as well as prefectural and municipal assemblies in Japan stands out in the international community. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Japan was ranked 158th among 193 countries in the world in terms of the ratio of female members of national and local legislatures as of 2017.
Women accounted for a mere 10.1 percent of all winners in the October 2017 House of Representatives election and make up only about 10 percent of members of prefectural assemblies.
Such a warped composition of legislatures adversely affects efforts to promote women's empowerment and to draw up policy measures including support for childrearing. Such a situation in the political world is behind the government's lukewarm response to a senior Finance Ministry official's sexual harassment scandal.
The low ratio of women to members of legislative bodies is a serious weak point for Japanese politics. Consequently, the enactment of the legislation to promote gender equality in politics is of great significance.
It had been believed that the bill would be enacted during last year's regular Diet session. However, deliberations on the proposed legislation were postponed and the bill was scrapped after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the lower house for a snap general election. Some high-ranking members of political parties confess that it is difficult to actually increase the number of their female candidates, raising questions as to whether the national legislature had really changed its awareness of women's empowerment before enacting the law.
Political parties bear serious responsibility to prevent the push for an increase in the number of female members of the Diet and local assemblies from ending up a mere empty slogan. Instead of taking haphazard measures, political parties should regularly look for women they could field in elections and nurture their development.
An environment should be created to encourage women to participate in the Diet and local assemblies. A Cabinet Office survey shows that more than 80 percent of female members of local assemblies pointed out that the maternity leave system and other systems to take time off are insufficient.
In order to increase female members of legislatures, many countries have introduced a quota system under which the ratio of women to all legislators or candidates must be raised to certain levels.
The introduction of a quota system was not incorporated in the newly enacted law. Still, the new legislation requires political parties to set clear targets for increasing the ratio of female lawmakers. It is obviously possible to place priority on female candidates in proportional representation elections.
An increase in the number of female members of the Diet and local assemblies will lead to reform -- not only in Japanese politics but all of society. Each political party should show its seriousness about women's empowerment in the House of Councillors election and nationwide local elections next year.