It's been four years since the gender parity law was passed in Japan, with an aim of fielding an equal number of female and male candidates in elections. Still, the male-dominated political environment has not changed.
Women make up 33.2% of all candidates running in the July 10 House of Councillors election. This is the first time the ratio of female candidates has topped 30% in any Diet election. Considering that half of voters are women, however, it's only natural to have the same proportion among candidates.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP)'s female candidate ratio has reached 51% in this election. Meanwhile, 55.2% of Japanese Communist Party candidates are women. Both parties have made election pledges to achieve a 50-50 female-male ratio in the Diet.
The ruling coalition is far behind. The Liberal Democratic Party has a 23.2% female candidate rate for the upper house race after giving priority to incumbents in the constituency system, who are mostly men, though the ruling party did achieve its "30% goal" for endorsing women in the proportional representation bloc. Only 20.8% of junior coalition partner Komeito's candidates are women.
This begs the question: How serious are they about improving gender equality in politics? We can say that each party's answer to this can be seen in their female candidate ratio.
While the upper chamber has a higher proportion of female members -- 23% -- than the lower house -- 9.9% -- this is not enough. When the Diet has a disproportionate membership structure, its discussions risk becoming too rigid. Unless women's voices are reflected in politics, Japanese society's gender gap cannot be eliminated.
Only with diverse perspectives can issues that have previously gone unnoticed gain attention. It was the female members who took lead during the ordinary Diet session that has just closed to enact a new law to support struggling women.
According to a survey conducted by the House of Representatives on its members, some 80% said the number of female Diet members was "not enough." However, when it came to how serious they were about changing the status quo, the gap between women and men was clear.
The situation facing women hoping to enter politics is harsh. People still behave in a slew of ways that suggest they judge women by their appearance. Sexual harassment from their fellow politicians and voters seems endless. And balancing a political career with child-rearing or caring for other family members is a burden.
To break free of the current reality, we need a quota system in which a proportion of seats or candidacies is allotted to women. There should also be discussions on a framework to distribute the government's subsidies to political parties based on their ratio of female elected members.
In Tokyo, a female challenger has recently been elected the new Suginami Ward mayor, unseating a male incumbent. We could say that the result reflected citizens' wish to change Japan's male-centric politics. Efforts are needed to eliminate hurdles that make women hesitate to run for public office.