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Japan drops to 171st in ranking for women ministers around the globe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C, bottom) and members of his new Cabinet pose for photos at his office in Tokyo on Oct. 2, 2018. (Kyodo)

NEW YORK (Kyodo) -- Japan ranked 171st out of 188 nations for the number of women holding ministerial positions last year, according to new biennial data released Tuesday by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women.

    Japan slid from 107th in 2017, with two fewer female ministers. Currently, only one of the country's 19 Cabinet ministers is a woman, or 5.3 percent.

    In other parts of Asia, the proportion of female ministers in the Philippines fell by 14.7 percentage points to 10.3 percent. Pakistan, on the other hand, went from no women ministers since 2012 to three in its 25-member Cabinet last year, its highest-ever number.

    Spain has the world's highest female representation in Cabinet at 64.7 percent, followed by Nicaragua, Sweden, Albania and Colombia to round out the top five, all with more than 50 percent female representation, as do the next four countries -- Costa Rica, Rwanda, Canada and France.

    While nine countries in all have more female than male ministers, IPU representatives and the United Nations believe more work needs to be done to break through barriers.

    "We have not reached the targets of gender balance that the member states and the leadership had wanted to achieve and we, therefore, hope that we can also encourage member states to lead from the front when they see these kinds of statistics," UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told reporters at the unveiling of the IPU-UN Women Map of Women in Politics.

    The event was held on the sidelines of the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women that began Monday and continues through March 22.

    Mlambo-Ngcuka remains disappointed that 75 percent of legislators globally remain men and that only nine countries have cabinets in which women are not a minority. Targets and incentives, she said, were needed to help promote women in the political sphere.

    "We also have to push back right now which I think contributes towards the slowing down of women wanting to contest for office because it is brutal, there is political violence that women experience in many other countries, there is verbal abuse, there is abuse on social media and that traumatizes women and their families," she said.

    Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, whose country elected its first female president in 1980, emphasized the importance of changing the culture, even if that means using "radical measures," as women politicians did in the 70s, to change the mentality of men. Jakobsdottir is in New York to attend the Commission on the Status of Women.

    "I think for Japan, as many other countries...political policies actually matter and they can actually change culture and values," she told Kyodo News. "If you have politicians who dare to implement them, because I think it takes too long to wait for the cultural change to come about by itself."

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