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Editorial: No. of female candidates in Japan's local elections still embarrassingly low

A record 489 women are vying for seats in the 41 prefectural assembly races that kicked off on March 31 as part of Japan's nationwide local elections. However, that number accounts for just 15.6% of all candidates.

    Half of voters are women, and it is only natural that they should be represented by a similar ratio of lawmakers.

    A Japanese law intended to equalize the number of male and female candidates also covers municipal and prefectural assemblies. However, this fifty-fifty goal is far from being achieved, and political parties' attempts to meet it are as yet insufficient. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s efforts in particular must be described as poor; only 6% of the LDP's prefectural assembly candidates are women.

    As of November 2022, 14% of Japan's 1,788 prefectural, city, ward, town, and village assemblies had zero female members, and if those with only one are included, the figure is nearly 40%.

    Discussions in legislative bodies so overwhelmingly male are prone to ossification. Diverse perspectives are essential to solving local issues and problems close to residents' hearts. We must remove the barriers that inhibit women from running for office.

    The perception of gender roles, that "politics is a man's job," remains deeply rooted. And the reality is that women, who tend to cover childrearing or caring for family members, are forced to balance work and these domestic tasks.

    In elections, we have seen cases of "vote harassment," or supporters making unreasonable demands of female candidates. Even after being elected, there is no end to sexual harassment and maternity harassment by fellow assembly members.

    The ratio of female assembly members is low in rural areas compared to large urban centers. Regional differences also need to be eliminated.

    The election system itself is another issue. In recent prefectural assembly races, approximately 40% of constituencies have had only one seat contested. And male incumbents tend to be given priority when fielding candidates.

    Improvement moves are underway in some areas. Last year, the Fukuoka Prefectural Assembly became the first such body to enact an ordinance to eradicate harassment related to political activities and campaigning by assembly members. And the city of Ono, Hyogo Prefecture, has been inviting women sitting in other local assemblies for courses to foster female leaders. Currently, half of the Ono Municipal Assembly's 14 seats are held by women.

    Meanwhile, youth groups backing female candidates and expert associations providing harassment consultation are springing up.

    All these efforts should be expanded. It is also important to create a mechanism to share advanced examples of progress among local governments and assemblies.

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