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Editorial: Quota system needed to increase female legislators in Japan

Today is International Women's Day, adopted by the United Nations to protect the rights of women and promote women's participation in the workforce. Its origins are said to go back to the women's suffrage movement in the United States.

    But the state of Japanese politics falls woefully short of such principles. In spite of the government setting a national goal of improving the gap between the sexes, little progress has been made.

    There is no other choice but to set up an effective system to achieve more gender equality. A quota system that allocates a certain number of candidates or seats to women should be adopted.

    In the 2021 House of Representatives election, the percentage of female candidates showed no improvement from the previous election in 2017, standing at 17.7% of the entire candidate pool. The proportion of those who were elected, meanwhile, reached just 9.7% -- even lower than in the previous election. In a February 2022 ranking of various countries on the percentage of female legislators at the national level, Japan came in 166th out of 189 countries.

    The percentage of women in the House of Councillors is 23.1%, but considering the fact that half of all eligible voters are women, the number is still insufficient. Among local assembly members, the figure is a mere 14.5%, and it is not uncommon to see local assemblies with no female members at all.

    When the makeup of legislators and assembly members is lopsided, debate can easily become rigid. To shine a light on issues that have been overlooked in the past, diverse viewpoints are crucial.

    In the Kanagawa Prefecture town of Oiso, where civic activism is dynamic, the proportions of male and female assembly members became half and half ahead of all other local assemblies across the country. Assembly deliberations became livelier, and public disclosure of information became more common.

    There will be a House of Councillors election this summer. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has said that it will aim for 50% of its candidates to be women, while women are the majority on the candidates list the Japanese Communist Party has released.

    Meanwhile, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito still seem to be fielding majorities of male candidates. The law calling on political parties and organizations to aim for an equal number of male and female candidates in elections has become an empty slogan for them.

    Overseas, the quota system has proven to be effective. It has been adopted in 118 countries and regions, and the ratio of female legislators has grown.

    It is time for Japan to begin specific deliberations, such as making proportional representation lists half men and half women. It is also necessary to deliberate the allocation of party subsidies from the government depending on the ratio of female to male candidates.

    It is vital to create an environment that makes it easier for women to become candidates. Sexual harassment, including harassment over women taking maternity leave, is widespread. It is imperative that measures be taken to eliminate such attitudes and behavior.

    Also of importance are efforts to make it possible for both men and women to balance child-rearing or nursing care with their work as legislators.

    To eliminate the gap between men and women in society as a whole, politicians must take the initiative.

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