The Diet on May 16 passed a bill to promote gender-balanced assemblies that urges political parties to field the same number of male and female candidates in national and local elections.

The law is solely designed to set principles and has no provision for penalties. It is not clear if the measure will actually increase the number of female members of the Diet and local assemblies.

Still, we welcome the legislation as an important step forward.

For many years, low turnouts in both national and local elections have been cited as worrisome signs of a “crisis” in Japan’s parliamentary democracy.

The principal factor behind the declining turnouts is the difficulty voters have in connecting themselves with politics.

Politics is the art of determining the shape of society. But few Japanese would say the current Diet is a microcosm of Japanese society.

That’s because politics in Japan has long been dominated by men despite diversity in people’s lifestyles and needs.

If the viewpoints of both men and women are not sufficiently reflected in debates on administrative, fiscal and foreign policy issues, how can it be possible for the Diet to serve the interests of the entire society?

An increase in female lawmakers would lead to a more multifaceted approach to policymaking.

Japan needs a shift from male dominance toward gender parity in the legislature. The Diet should become a forum for uninhibited discussion freed from the influence of gender, social status or organization.

If the Diet becomes a true microcosm of Japanese society, politics would become closer to the people.

Women account for only about 10 percent of current Lower House members. The share of women in the Diet is conspicuously lower than the international standard, but that has not always been the case.

After the end of World War II, Japanese women first exercised their right to vote and hold office in the 1946 Lower House election. The poll gave 39 Lower House seats to women.

Seventy-two years later, the number of female Lower House members is 47, no significant increase from 1946.

Despite the various changes that have since been made to electoral and related systems, they have not led to reforms that sufficiently respond to radical changes in society.

In many other countries, female legislative representation has risen sharply because of a strong commitment to gender equality. These countries have taken strong action to achieve goals in national gender quotas and mandatory party rules.

Whether Japan’s new law will lead to real progress depends on voters.

Voters should pay close attention to the parties’ responses to the legislation. Which parties really respect the spirit of the law and are making serious efforts to increase the number of female lawmakers?

Are there any large gaps between the numbers of the male and female candidates of parties? Do any parties give their male executives total control over policy decisions?

These are important questions concerning the parties’ commitment to pursuing politics that is aligned in the interests of the people. Voters should carefully assess the performances of parties from these viewpoints before they make their decisions at the polls.

It is also vital to review customs and systems that hamper women’s candidacies. And outside of politics, both men and women should equally be involved in child-rearing and handling of family matters.

In Taiwan, which has adopted a gender quota system for the legislature, the number of nighttime dinner sessions for closed-door talks among politicians has declined.

Efforts toward gender parity in legislation could also lead to greater transparency in politics and improve efficiency in legislators’ activities.

Japan now has a precious opportunity to take a step toward a society where all members feel comfortable and fairly treated. But whether the nation actually takes that step hinges on the will of political parties and voters.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 17