Photo/IllutrationSeiko Noda, minister in charge of women’s empowerment, addresses a gathering of women interested in running for office in Gifu on April 1. (Ken Murota)

The Lower House moved to address the low representation of women in politics with a bill April 12 urging political parties to field male and female candidates in national and local assembly elections in equal numbers.

The proposed legislation could provide a long-needed incentive to get more women to enter politics. But whether the bill will rectify the disproportionate gender gap remains to be seen as the legislation comes with no punitive clause.

The bill is the brainchild of a multipartisan group of lawmakers led by Masaharu Nakagawa, a Lower House member with the Group of Independents.

“We may see the law promulgated next week if all goes smoothly,” Nakagawa said.

Japan trails in the global trend of gender equality in politics, ranking 157th among 193 countries assessed on female representation in the lower chamber last December by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organization that has observer status at the U.N. General Assembly.

Women accounted for only 10.1 percent of successful candidates fielded in the Lower House election in October. Female candidates entering the race accounted for 17.7 percent of the total.

Seiko Noda, the minister in charge of women’s empowerment, called the legislation a step in the right direction during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on April 11.

“If the law is enacted, news outlets will surely check the ratio of women against the overall total of candidates prior to the start of official campaigns,” she said. “Reports on their findings will give voters an insight in which party they should cast their ballots for.”

Still, there are many hurdles to overcome before the legislation generates the intended results.

A big question is how the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will approach the legislation.

Of all the political parties, the LDP had the lowest share of female candidates entering the Lower House race last year, at 7.5 percent.

The figure compared with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan’s 24.4 percent, the Party of Hope’s 20 percent and the Japanese Communist Party’s 23.9 percent, all opposition entities.

Fumio Kishida, chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, said at an April 11 news conference that the party should strive to fall into line with the times by making a sincere effort to respect the spirit of the legislation.

Fusae Ota, who heads the LDP’s women’s division, pledged to initiate a debate on a numerical target for female candidates within the party.

But the road to equal representation will likely be bumpy as almost all of LDP’s constituencies are filled with incumbents.

Complying with the law will require the party to replace many male incumbents with female newcomers.