A record 28 women won seats in the latest House of
Councillors election. The number of female upper house members increased by 12
to 50, accounting for 20 percent of the total, but Japan still trails other
developed countries in terms of female participation in politics.
There were 96 female candidates in the latest election,
down nine from the previous upper house contest in 2013. The number of female
winners increased by six from the 2013 election to 28, with 17 elected from
constituencies and 11 from the proportional representation section. This figure
surpassed the previous record of 26 female winners in the 2007 upper house
election. The proportion of women among total election winners also marked a record
high of 23.1 percent.
Sophia University Prof. Mari Miura, an expert on political
science, said, “While the number of women elected from the proportional
representation section remained unchanged from past elections at around 10,
what is noteworthy in the latest election is the drastic increase of women
elected from constituencies.”
Especially in constituencies in which only one seat was up
for grabs, strong female candidates ran as unified opposition candidates and
won seats, which significantly contributed to the increase, according to Miura.
“If the number of women who can win elections increases,
more will run for election, leading female voters to feel closer to politics. A
virtuous cycle will be created,” Miura said.
If the number of female lawmakers increases, experts say
more effective policies can be expected in fields where women play major roles,
such as child-rearing and nursing care. Additionally, measures to address the
declining birthrate are expected to progress through a review of conventional
social systems and other means in order to create a society where double-income
couples can have and raise children more easily.
However, internationally Japan is lagging in terms of
female participation in politics. According to statistics issued in June by the
Inter-Parliamentary Union, which consists of parliaments from countries around
the world, women accounted for 9.5 percent of Japan’s House of Representatives
members, placing it 155th among 191 countries. This figure is far below the
over 40 percent in Sweden and Finland, and the around 30 percent in Germany,
Italy, Britain and several other countries.
A number of female leaders are making their presence felt
overseas. In Rome, lawyer Virginia Raggi was elected as the city’s first female
mayor in June. In the United States, Hillary Clinton is aiming to become the
first female U.S. president.
In the Fourth Basic Plan for Gender Equality, adopted by
the Cabinet in December last year, the government instituted a goal to increase
the percentage of women candidates in both the lower and upper house elections
to 30 percent by 2020. Its aim was to promote the active role of women in
Katsunobu Kato, the minister in charge of promoting the
dynamic engagement of all citizens, has asked political parties to consider
their own measures to increase the percentage of female party members,
executives and national election candidates.
To increase the number of female Diet members, parties
jointly created a bill aimed at making the numbers of male and female
candidates equal. However, relevant lawmakers failed to reach an agreement in
the previous ordinary Diet session.
Misako Iwamoto, a professor of political science at Mie
University, called for a further increase in the number of female politicians, saying:
“The increase in the number of female winners in the latest election is
commendable, but women account for only 20 percent of the upper house members.
It is said that if they exceed 30 percent, the presence of women will become
visible. Given this, we need more female lawmakers.”
“Political parties advocating more active roles for women
or gender equality should take the initiative in efforts such as making the
male-female ratio of their candidates equal,” she continued. “Half of Japanese
people are women, and it is important to send female lawmakers with various
backgrounds to the Diet.”