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Record ratio of women running in Japan upper house race, but inclusion efforts uneven

(Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The ratio of women candidates in this summer's House of Councillors election hit a record-breaking 28.1% for a national election, but obvious gaps in female representation among political parties suggest unequal efforts to put forward even numbers of men and women.

Of the 370 candidates running in the July 21 upper house poll, 104 are women, up eight from the 2016 election. Campaigning kicked off on July 4. It is the first national election since the Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field came into force in May 2018, requiring political parties to attempt to nominate equivalent numbers of female and male candidates.

Only the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Japanese Communist Party (JCP) have met the bar set by the non-binding act, fielding slates that are 71.4% (five candidates) and 55% (22 candidates) female, respectively. Fellow opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) got close, nominating 19 female candidates, or 45.2% of its total.

Of the 18 candidates jointly backed by major opposition parties and running in key swing constituencies with one contested seat, 11 are women. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet tends to be less popular with female than male voters, and it appears these opposition forces are looking to pick up votes from women disaffected with the current administration.

In a July 4 sidewalk speech in Tokyo, CDP chief Yukio Edano stated, "Of our candidates, 45% are women, and if these members are elected, it will change the Diet."

In contrast, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito seem reluctant to field female candidates. The LDP has put forward 12 women candidates, the same figure as in the 2016 upper house election, constituting 14.6% of its total candidates. Only two, or 8.3%, of candidates put up by the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito are women.

In a July 3 debate among seven party chiefs held at the Japan National Press Club, LDP leader Abe said, "We still need more (female candidates) and we can't avoid criticism for the lack of effort. We will try to push for 20% in the next election."

As the LDP already has many sitting members, it is believed to be difficult for the party to field fresh faces at all, including women.

According to a lower house survey by the Inter-Parliamentary Union -- a global organization of national parliaments -- women make up only 10.2% of lawmakers in Japan's House of Representatives, and the country ranks 164th among 193 countries. Furthermore, Japan has the lowest percentage of women in the lower chamber among the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations.

Though Takako Doi, a former head of the SDP, launched the "Madonna boom," which contributed to the fielding of an all-time high 146 female candidates in the 1989 House of Councillors poll, the percentage of women standing for national office in Japan has remained low, in the 20% range.

Aiming to overcome this situation, a non-partisan group of lawmakers compiled a draft of the act to promote gender equality in politics in 2015, which was passed unanimously by a plenary session of the upper house in May 2018. However, the non-binding act has no punitive clauses, leaving each political party to make its own efforts.

(Japanese original by Hironori Takechi and Tetsuya Kageyama, Political News Department)

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