From ‘marrying’ to being elected: Women make up a record third of candidates in Japan poll

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Less than a year ago, voters in Japan had to search far and wide to find a woman’s name on the ballot for lower house elections. But as the country prepares to return to the polls this weekend, they have comparatively many options.

About a third of the candidates in Sunday’s upper house elections are women, the highest proportion since Japanese women gained the right to vote and stand for parliament in 1946.

A record 181 women candidates will compete for 125 seats, 77 more than in the previous upper house election in 2019, a trend that has given hope to women campaigning to break the male stranglehold on Japanese politics. Women make up 33.2% of all candidates, a level close to the government’s target of 35% by 2025.

The increase is an apparent attempt by Japan’s political parties to honor a commitment to select a similar number of male and female candidates, even though only a small number participated in recent elections for the most powerful upper house.

However, the optimism could be short-lived. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is expected to win more than half of the seats on Sunday, has increased the proportion of women candidates since the last upper house election three years ago, but only to 23.2 %.

LDP candidates include Arfiya Eri, a former UN official of Uyghur origin who said at a recent livestream event: “The more different lifestyles are visible to us, the more we will be able to imagine the lives of other people. people and the needs of other people.

Akio Igarashi, professor emeritus at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, said targets should be set to increase the number of female candidates.

“It is essential that political parties strive to appoint women to appropriate positions, such as those that allow them to select candidates,” Igarashi told the Yomiuri Shimbun. “Parties should also help deepen voters’ awareness that female candidates will have a positive impact on policy, which, in turn, will benefit all of society.”

The world’s third-largest economy fares poorly when it comes to women in politics, ranking 163rd out of 190 countries, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Women represent only 9.9% of deputies in the lower house and 23% in the upper house. In its 2021 gender gap index, the World Economic Forum ranked Japan 147th in political empowerment out of 156 countries.

Most of the women candidates in this weekend’s elections are running for opposition parties that analysts say will have a hard time making a dent in the PLD’s comfortable position in the upper house.

Just over half of the candidates in the largest opposition group, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, are women. The Japanese Communist Party has the highest proportion, at 55.2%. “We believe that by getting women candidates to win, Japanese politics will really change,” CDPJ Secretary General Chinami Nishimura told reporters ahead of the election.

While the upper house pick is a vast improvement over last October’s lower house poll, when just 186, or less than 18%, of the candidates were women, the parties are under increasing pressure. to address widespread harassment of women candidates.

A survey last year by the cabinet office found that female politicians and candidates faced “rampant” sexual harassment, including inappropriate touching and verbal advances by male voters, and online abuse based on their age, marital status and private life.

In response, the cabinet office released a video in April recreating scenes of harassment based on the testimony of younger lawmakers during the election campaign and after they were elected.

The survey results will not surprise Ayaka Shiomura, who was the target of sexist taunts during a debate on childcare at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 2014.

The incident sparked a national debate after unidentified male members of the assembly verbally abused her for questioning the city’s commitment to pregnant women and single mothers.

“You should get married as soon as possible,” several shouted as Shiomura, who happened to represent an upper house constituency, spoke, before asking her if she was unable to have children.

In 2017, Kumamoto City Assemblywoman Yuka Ogata was forced to leave the chamber after her colleagues objected to the presence of her seven-month-old son.

Two years ago, Shoko Arai, then the only female member of a Kusatsu city council, was ousted from her seat after accusing the mayor of sexual assault.

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