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Editorial: Coming elections offer Japan politics chance to improve dismal gender record

Japan's lethargic attempts to resolve gender gap issues have been shown up again as clearly behind the international curve.

    The World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index, which ranks equality of the sexes worldwide, placed Japan 120th out of 156 nations; effectively the same level as last year, when it came in at 121, its worst-ever position.

    Of particular issue is Japan's score in the Political Empowerment section, where it came in 147th. Just 9.9% of lawmakers in the House of Representatives are women, and only two of the country's 21 Cabinet ministers are female.

    Half the population is female, and to properly reflect the views of the nation it's natural for half of all politicians to be women.

    Kamala Harris, the first female vice president of the United States, said at an address to the U.N. last month that "the exclusion of women in decision-making is a marker of a flawed democracy."

    This year promises a House of Representatives election. It's a good opportunity to change the current circumstances in Japan. All the parties talk up women's participation, but the point is to what extent they can actually increase female candidate numbers.

    Just 7.6% of House of Representatives lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are female. Among its constituency candidates, the party has indicated it will prioritize incumbent politicians, and therefore no big changes are expected.

    The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan aims to increase its share of female lawmakers up from the current 13.8%, but the nomination of women candidates is not going as intended.

    But just increasing candidate numbers is insufficient. It cannot be a fix in name only, with candidates fielded in constituencies they have little hope of winning, or placed at the lower end of proportional representation lists.

    A law aiming for gender parity among candidates for National Diet and local assembly elections was created in 2018. But it as an empty gesture that leaves the setting of numerical targets to individual parties.

    To achieve a genuine break from the current situation, a quota system that allocates a set number of candidacies and seats to women must be introduced. Across the world, 118 countries and regions employ similar systems. In Mexico and the EU, the ratio of female lawmakers has increased.

    Directing funds to structures that can reflect a greater ratio of female candidates should perhaps also be considered in the distribution of subsidies to political parties.

    The sexist remarks by Yoshiro Mori, former president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, have been an opportunity for Japan to closely examine its deep-rooted gender imbalance.

    How seriously will the country act to eliminate gender disparity? The way each party approaches the coming general election is under scrutiny.

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