TOKYO -- Japan's low ranking in the Global Gender Gap Index announced by the World Economic Forum on March 31 has highlighted the nation's failure to close the gender gap in the political and economic spheres.
Japan placed 120th out of 156 countries in the index, ranking behind other countries in East Asia including South Korea in 102nd place and China in 107th. It also trailed one place behind Angola, which saw a 38-year-long dictatorship by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos until 2017, with citizens' rights -- including those of women -- significantly restricted. Trailing behind Japan was Sierra Leone in West Africa.
"Japan has been left behind the global trends of gender equality due to the absence of political will," said Mari Miura, professor of political science at Sophia University.
The gender gap report, first published in 2006, quantifies gender equality evaluations of 14 items in four categories -- politics, the economy, education and health -- and ranks each country. The higher the index, the more gender equality a country has achieved, putting it in an upper place in the rankings.
Japan ranked 80th out of 115 countries surveyed in 2006, but fell to 94th among 134 nations investigated in 2010, and then to 110th among 149 countries in 2018. Meanwhile, Japan's 65.6% gender equality achievement rate seen in the latest index remains almost unchanged since 2006, when it stood at 64.5%.
"While the domestic gender gap was left unimproved over the past 15 years, efforts toward gender equality have progressed globally, leaving Japan behind other countries," says Miura, who is versed in the issue of women's empowerment in politics.
When taking a close look at the items in each category, the ratios of female members in Japan's House of Representatives and in the Cabinet remained low, as they did in the previous year. In the economic sphere, the ratio of women in managerial posts showed a similar trend, resulting in Japan retaining a low position in the overall rankings.
According to the Cabinet Office's White Paper on Gender Equality in 2020 and other resources, the ratio of female members in Japan's lower house reached just 9.9%, while only two out of 21 Cabinet members were women. The ratio of women in managerial posts, meanwhile, stood at 14.8%. These elements of Japan's status quo where there are only a small number of women in the political and economic decision-making processes has apparently led to its dismal overall placing.
"As it takes a certain amount of time to cultivate human resources in the economic field, it will be difficult to quickly improve Japan's (gender gap) index," Miura said. "But in the political arena, it is easier to change the situation as long as there is the will to do so, such as by appointing female Cabinet members and fielding female candidates in elections. By having more women in politics, the gender gap can be improved in other spheres through the establishment and improvement of legal systems."
Miura continued, "Many countries have improved their gender gap with the political will of 'having to change' the situation. That Japan ended up 120th place reflects the absence of the political will to address gender equality."
Public awareness on the issue has been evolving. Japan's worst-ever ranking of 121st place in the 2019 gender gap survey attracted much public attention, and in February this year, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori met a fierce backlash for his sexist comments while at the helm of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Protests against gender discrimination have been spreading even among younger generations in Japan.
"Although people's awareness about the gender issue has been changing, changes in systems have not caught up with them. Politics has the role of filling that gap," Miura said. "This year we will see the dissolution of the lower house and a general election, and attention is focused on how many female lawmakers each political party will increase. The will of politics is being put to the test more than ever now."
(Japanese original by Aya Shiota, Integrated Digital News Center)