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Editorial: Proposal to boost ratio of female lawmakers worth serious consideration

There is a move to break down a thick and imposing glass wall. To increase the ratio of female lawmakers in the Diet, a multipartisan group of legislators has drafted a bill to reform the proportional representation system for the House of Representatives election, and is calling on all parties for their support.

    Japan has reached a point where, in order to remedy the plateauing ratio of female legislators in the Diet, it needs to take a systematic approach. The multipartisan proposal differs from a quota system, which would allocate a certain number of parliamentary seats to women, but is expected to have a certain level of effectiveness nonetheless -- if passed.

    The percentage of female legislators in the Diet stands at 9.5 percent in the House of Representatives (from the 2014 lower house election), and 15.7 percent in the House of Councillors. According to a survey conducted by the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union last year, the Japanese lower house's ratio of women to men comes in at an abysmal 154th out of 190 countries worldwide, making Japan the poorest performer among the G-7 states in terms of gender equality. The legislative branch of government is far from achieving the government's goal of having women fill 30 percent of leadership positions by the year 2020.

    In an attempt to correct this state of affairs, a multipartisan group of 61 legislators from both the upper and lower houses chaired by Democratic Party (DP) legislator and former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masaharu Nakagawa drafted a proposal that would change how dual candidacy functions in the lower house proportional representation system.

    The bill proposes amending the Public Offices Election Act so that it would be possible for political parties to divide candidates that are running in both the proportional representation and single-seat constituencies by gender. That way, when candidates do not win in a single-seat constituency but their political party secures proportional representation seats, men and women can alternately fill those seats. Such a system would even out the ratio of male and female lawmakers that are "resurrected" under the proportional representation system.

    Among the members of the multipartisan group are ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura; the former chairwoman of the LDP's General Council Seiko Noda; and Democratic Party policy chief Shiori Yamao. The group estimates that if the various political parties had adopted the proposed system in the 2014 general election, the percentage of female legislators in the lower house could have reached around 20 percent.

    This month marks exactly 70 years since the first female Japanese lawmaker emerged following the 1946 election when Japanese women were granted the right to vote for the first time in history. Yet moves to field female candidates are slow-going, especially among larger political parties, and there are deep-rooted apprehensions regarding the adoption of a quota system.

    The DP's Nakagawa and other members of the multipartisan group say that because the draft bill leaves the decision to adopt the alternate male-female proportional representation system to the discretion of each political party, the bill could improve the current system while maintaining parties' autonomy. Regardless of the fact that the final decision lies with each political party, however, some are likely to oppose measures that manipulate election results. But unless there is a systematic push, the problem of a severe gender imbalance in politics is unlikely to improve. Under such circumstances, the proposal is well worth considering.

    Of course, this does not absolve parties of the responsibility to actively field and cultivate female candidates. The multipartisan group is calling for the passing of a "philosophical law" alongside the aforementioned proposal that would promote political parties' efforts to meet targets for female candidate numbers.

    Increasing the percentage of female lawmakers is crucial in making changes to the way our economy and society function. The LDP holds the key to how the bill is deliberated. If the Abe Cabinet is serious about creating "a society in which women can shine," let us see some concrete steps.

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