Photo/IllutrationMany women spectators in the gallery section watch passage of the “Candidate gender equality law” in the Upper House on May 16. (Sawa Okabayashi)

Although only symbolic in nature, Japan's first law to promote an increase in female members in the national and local assemblies passed the Diet on May 16.

The law, which urges political parties to seek to field the same number of male and female candidates in national and local elections, passed the Upper House on that day with unanimous approval in its plenary session.

The bill had passed the Lower House in April.

The law is named, “Seiji-bunya niokeru Danjo-kyodosankaku Suishinho” (Law to promote joint participation by men and women in political field). It is commonly called, “Kohosha Danjo-kintoho” (Candidate gender equality law).

The law stipulates that it aims to achieve a status in which the numbers of male and female candidates are the same in national and local elections, to accurately reflect the public’s diverse opinions on policy planning and making.

Based on the view, the law demands that political parties make efforts to increase the number of female candidates although it has no punitive clause.

The campaign to enact the law was initiated by a suprapartisan group of lawmakers set up in 2015. It is headed by former education minister Masaharu Nakagawa.

In accordance with the law, the Diet also adopted a resolution requiring the internal affairs ministry to consider measures to create an environment in which a wide range of people, including women, can take part in local assemblies as assembly members.

The resolution also urges the Cabinet Office to provide information about support measures for women’s participation in politics.

Female lawmakers account for only 10.1 percent of Lower House members. According to a survey conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the figure ranked 158th among 193 countries as of April 1, belonging to the lowest group.

In the Lower House election held in 2017, female candidates accounted for 17.7 percent of those running. The corresponding figure was 11.6 percent in prefectural assembly elections in 2015 that constituted part of the unified local elections held that year.

The next unified local elections are scheduled for April 2019. In July that year, the next Upper House election will be held.

(This article was written by Sawa Okabayashi and Akira Minami.)