The upcoming presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has offered more chances than before for women's policies to become the topic of campaign debates. The fact that two women are standing for election for the first time, matching the number of male candidates, has no doubt played a part in this.
Symbolizing this situation is the focus on a system of allowing Japanese married couples a choice between keeping their separate last names or adopting a single one as a point of discussion. The Justice Ministry's Legislative Council has issued a report seeking the introduction of such a system, but moves towards the change have been shelved for a quarter century due to staunch opposition from LDP conservatives.
The four candidates differed in their views on selective surnames. Former communications minister Sanae Takaichi expressed a negative view on adopting such a system, while the LDP's former policy council chief Fumio Kishida expressed caution. In contrast, administrative reform minister Taro Kono and the LDP's Executive Acting Secretary-General Seiko Noda voiced that they backed change.
Support for the legal change has increased within the ruling party, and both Kono and Noda have stressed they will not bind individual legislators to the party's line but allow conscience votes.
Such a shift deserves praise, but with Japan still far behind the world in terms of rectifying the gender gap, debate is insufficient.
The former administration of Shinzo Abe promoted "a society in which women can shine," and enacted the Act on the Promotion of Female Participation and Career Advancement in the Workplace. It asked companies to promote the hiring of women and their employment in managerial positions, but it was evident that the idea behind this was to make up for a shortage of resources in the workforce.
The number of working women increased, but many of these women remain in nonregular employment with unstable positions, and the wage gap has not been narrowed, either.
The coronavirus crisis has brought such inconsistencies into relief. Women in nonregular employment have lost their jobs or had their working hours cut. And in line with restrictions on going outdoors, the number of consultations from women who have been subjected to violence from their spouse has increased. Female suicides have also risen.
Despite the need for policy changes, the response of the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been insufficient.
Each of the candidates is calling for the enhancement of mechanisms to support living assistance, child rearing and nursing care. But they have presented no paths toward eliminating deep-rooted consciousness on gender roles.
To correct disparity, politics first must change.
Women make up just a tenth of legislators in the House of Representatives. To achieve a breakthrough, it is indispensable to introduce a quota system that allocates a certain number of female candidates and seats for women.
A nonpartisan parliamentary group sought to introduce legislation requiring each party to set numerical targets for the number of female candidates, but the LDP, which has many male incumbents, opposed this.
Politics led by old men provides no hope for diverse discussion. In order to achieve a society in which women's voices are heard, old temperaments must be reformed.