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Editorial: Japan parties' commitment to fielding female election candidates in doubt

The National Diet building and its surroundings are seen in this file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

Just 17.7% of candidates for Japan's Oct. 31 House of Representatives election are women -- a rate unchanged since the previous vote four years ago.

    Half of the country's voters are women, and the number of lawmakers who represent them should reflect this reality. It brings into question how serious the political parties are about this issue.

    Three years ago, lawmaker-initiated legislation to encourage numerical equality between male and female candidates for National Diet and regional assembly elections was enacted. This is the first lower house election since.

    But the reality is it was just a hollow promise.

    The ruling parties' response has been particularly poor. Just 9.8% of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates are women, while its junior coalition partner Komeito fares even worse at 7.5%.

    This is because in single-seat districts, men made up the majority of incumbents before the lower house's dissolution, and the ruling parties gave priority to them when nominating candidates for the next poll. The people contesting seats held by retiring Diet lawmakers are also almost all men, and women make up few of the proportional representation candidates.

    Among opposition parties, women account for just 18.3% of candidates for the largest Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP). In the case of the Japanese Communist Party, 35.4% are women. The only party to exceed 50% is the Social Democratic Party; 60% of its candidates are women.

    Before the lower house was dissolved, just 10% of its elected lawmakers were women. The Inter-Parliamentary Union's monthly ranking of the ratio of women in national parliaments puts Japan at 165th out of 190 countries.

    A legislative structure that skews male can easily become inflexible. By including a variety of viewpoints, attention can be brought to issues that have gone overlooked. If women's views are not reflected in politics, there can be no progress in eliminating disparities between men and women.

    To break the deadlock, all that can be done is to introduce a female candidate and lawmaker quota system. In Europe, Mexico and elsewhere, this system has led to a rise in the proportion of female lawmakers.

    A system that distributes party subsidies in accordance with the proportion of female candidates should also be considered.

    There also needs to be a review of the way Diet deliberations are conducted. It is essential that there are provisions for an environment where anyone can participate with ease. Deliberations online are also an issue for consideration.

    Sexual and maternity harassment must also be rooted out. A Cabinet Office survey showed that close to 60% of female regional lawmakers have experienced harassment from people including supporters and other lawmakers. Another issue is vote harassment, in which people use their right to vote to make unfair requests of candidates.

    These circumstances are distancing women from politics. Regardless of gender, people who have the drive should be able to stand as candidates. We must change society into the one that will allow that to be taken as given.

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