Japan is a member of the G8 and G20 international blocs, and is considered a world power. Its economy is the world's third-largest by nominal GDP, and its military budget is the eight-largest in the world. With major contributions to science and modern technology, it is generally considered as a highly developed country. However, there is a major accusation that stands to impugn Japan's reputation, and that is the (embarrassingly) small room that exists for women to thrive in politics.
Just 10% of politicians in Japan's House of Representatives are female, according to new data released ahead of International Women's Day.
Women account for 51% of the Japanese population, according to World Bank data. Facing an aging population, the government has tried to close the gender gap in the workforce with a policy dubbed "womenomics." In 2018 a law was passed encouraging political parties to set targets for gender parity. However, there are no incentives or penalties for parties which fail to do so. In the same year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed just one woman to his new cabinet.
At local level, women comprised 17.2% of large municipal assemblies and 14.9% of smaller city assemblies in December 2017. But they only made up 10.1% of prefectural assemblies and 9.9% of town and village assemblies, according to data from the Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office.
Japan came 165th out of 193 countries listed in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) study. As of January 1, only 47 of Japan's 463 lower house lawmakers were women -- compared to a 24% global average and 19.6% average in Asia. In Japan's House of Councillors, or upper house, 50 of the 241 representatives -- 20% -- are women.
Rwanda topped the IPU list, with women representing 61% of lower house seats. France ranked 16th with 39.7% and the United States was 78th with 23.5%. Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu have no female political representatives, according to the list.
The representation of women in world politics has significantly improved over the decades, but the fact remains that there are still many seats they have been hindered from occupying. It's easy to make references to Theresa May, Hilary Clinton and Kamala Harris, but there's need to remind keen observers that as of November 2018, women made up only 24 per cent of the total number of parliamentarians around the world. As of January 2019, only 11 women in the world are serving as heads of state, while there are only 10 women serving as heads of government.
To put things in local perspective, female representation in Nigeria's House of Representatives stands at a meagre 5.5 per cent, while female senators make up only 5.8 per cent of the upper house. Of the 73 presidential candidates there were 5 women, and only 232 women were part of the 1900 candidates that contested for the nation's 109 senatorial seats at the 2019 elections.
The Land of the Rising Sun may be guilty of relegating its women when it comes to political affairs, but other countries are no less culpable. Efforts to improve female representation in politics have often focused on quotas and reserved shares, but what is really needed is a nuanced approach that tackles the underlying, interconnected barriers that women face in getting nominated for elected office and conducting successful campaigns. Old structures have to be collapsed, and away from cute statements on social media, we have to mean it when we say we want women to participate more in politics.
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