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Despite gender equality law, less than 18% of candidates in Japan election are women

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center in the back row, and other lawmakers raise their hands in a customary "banzai," after the dissolution of the lower house was announced at the Diet in Tokyo on Oct. 14, 2021. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- Just 186 of the 1,051 candidates standing in Japan's House of Representatives election this month, or 17.7%, are women -- on par with the low level seen in the previous lower house race in 2017.

    This is the first election since the enactment of the Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field, which calls on parties to make the numbers of male and female candidates as even as possible in Japan's elections. But the figures suggest Japan faces a rocky road to achieving this ideal.

    The government has poured effort into the active participation of women in politics. The Cabinet approved a Fifth Basic Plan for Gender Equality at the end of 2020, which aimed to increase the proportion of female candidates in national elections to 35%. Nevertheless, women's participation in politics has not advanced.

    Among the two parties in the ruling coalition, the percentage of female candidates for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) stands at 9.8% (33 people), and for the party's junior coalition partner Komeito, the rate is just 7.5% (four people). Among the opposition parties, 18.3% (44 people) of Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) candidates are women, as are 35.4% (46 people) of Japanese Communist Party candidates, and 29.6% (eight people) Democratic Party for the People candidates.

    The LDP's low proportion of female candidates apparently stems from the party's practice of giving preferential treatment to incumbent legislators. A total of 256 of the party's candidates, or 76.1%, held seats in the last parliament, while newcomers account for just 21.4%.

    At an Oct. 15 news conference, Minister of State for Gender Equality Seiko Noda commented, "If an incumbent puts their hand up, they can get priority to become a candidate in the next election. Current posts are overwhelmingly filled by men, and the party didn't go as far as pushing them away to make way for women."

    But even in the case of the CDP, which has fewer candidates who were in office before this election, just 44 of its 240 candidates are women, far short of the 35% goal outlined in the Basic Plan for Gender Equality.

    During a debate at the Japan National Press Club on Oct. 18, CDP leader Yukio Edano stated, "After this lower house election, I want to realistically create a Diet in which the numbers of men and women are nearly the same."

    (Japanese original by Shu Hatakeyama, Political News Department)

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