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No kiss, no vote: Survey shows female politicians in Japan victims of sexual harassment

A voter casts a ballot. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- A survey on politicians in Japan has shown that many former and current female national legislators and local assembly members have been subject to sexual harassment.

    "I was threatened that if I did not kiss them, they would not vote for me," and "I was told that young women win elections even if they are not qualified," are examples of some of the responses.

    Released in February, the results were a part of a "politician harassment white paper" containing the results of a survey carried out by Tokyo-based Woman Shift, a network of young female lawmakers and assembly members, as well as Polilion, a Gifu Prefecture-based organization that conducts harassment training for legislatures and assemblies. The survey was carried out between August and October 2021, and 200 people (100 men, 98 women and 2 others) responded.

    To a question asking what kind of harassment was the most common, 27 women said "sexual harassment," while just three men said the same. There was not much of a difference between the genders for "moral harassment," referring to a type of bullying in the form of words and behavior, but while two men reported experiencing "gender harassment," including sexist remarks and behavior, 10 women did the same.

    Specific cases of sexual harassment that women experienced included: "being asked to sell them my pantyhose," "having my buttocks touched (by voters) as I was passing by during the election;" "having the size of my breasts evaluated, and being propositioned for sex" by those tied to the party; "being told my face in person and on campaign posters looks different and asked how much photoshopping was involved" by a voter; and "being told that female politicians should stay quiet" by a fellow lawmaker.

    According to the Cabinet Office, of national legislators in Japan, only around 14% are women, and among regional assembly members, the figure is about 15%. To improve the disproportion between men and women, the Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field amended in June 2021 seeks local government bodies to conduct harassment training as a measure against sexual harassment.

    "Female lawmakers, especially in their early years, do not have a strong foundation of support, and when they are harassed, they have a hard time speaking up about their experiences because they think that they have to tolerate it to gather voters," says Mari Hamada, the head of Stand By Women, a Tokyo-based organization that supports female legislators and assembly members who have experienced sexual harassment.

    But she also says that in recent years, more and more people are speaking up about their experiences, and hopes that it spreads into a lawmakers' version of the "MeToo" movement.

    (Japanese original by Mei Nanmo, Tokyo City News Department)

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