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Editorial: Japan's 'old-man politics' must give way to true female equality, involvement

Today is International Women's Day -- the origin of which is credited in Japan to a March 8, 1904 demonstration by a group of women in the United States demanding universal suffrage -- a time to call for action for the creation of a society free of discrimination against women. But here in Japan, there remains a yawning gap between that ideal and present-day reality.

    Comments belittling women by the erstwhile head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee Yoshiro Mori shone a revealing light on Japanese society's outmoded ways. A leader and his dusty old ways of thinking held sway over a nearly homogenous organization. The status quo was given primacy over boldness, and minority opinions were ignored or expunged.

    After Mori announced his resignation, ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai stated that he would have female LDP lawmakers sit in on meetings of the overwhelmingly male party executives. However, the proposal was roundly criticized for granting the women "observer status" only, and thus no right to make comments. Had officials adopted the perspective of making the most of a wide range of opinions in the LDP's management, then this kind of proposal would not have even be made.

    There are very few women in Japan's decision-making centers. Japan had a goal of having 30% of all senior management and leadership positions in the country filled by women by 2020, but this was not reached.

    Just 9.9% of House of Representatives seats and 22.6% of House of Councillors seats are occupied by women. According to the international Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of January this year, Japan ranked 166th out of 190 countries in the ratio of female lawmakers. Considering women make up half the population, the disparity is truly astounding. Japan is even described as having a "democracy without women" and run by "old-man politics."

    The Diet passed a law in 2018 calling for equal numbers of male and female election candidates, but it has proven wholly ineffective. Already, 118 countries and regions around the world have laws mandating quotas for the ratio of female candidates for political office. Japan should follow suit.

    The quota system is sometimes criticized as giving women "preferential treatment." But what it really is, is a way to correct the preferential treatment that has been enjoyed by men. In Taiwan, activities by female lawmakers elected under a quota have encouraged more women to run for office, creating a virtuous circle.

    Increasing the number of women in politics can lead to more diverse debate. We expect that greater female participation will shed light on important issues that our political leaders have hitherto failed to notice or pushed relentlessly to the back burner.

    It is the responsibility of politics to press forward with democracy's foundational principles and make them a reality. To create real change, Japan's politicians must first change the way they think.

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