Photo/IllutrationA woman, left, seeking to run in the local assembly election in spring 2019 learns how to create a promotional video in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Nov. 18. (Ryo Ikeda)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Aspiring female politicians learned how to create videos aimed at wooing voters in a workshop in Tokyo on Nov. 18, seeking to put a dent in figures showing that four of five local assembly members across the country are male.

So-called "zero assemblies," or those with no female members, accounted for 349 of 1,788, or almost 20 percent, of such local bodies across Japan as of Dec. 31, 2017, according to internal affairs ministry data compiled by The Asahi Shimbun.

About half a year has passed since the law on gender equality in the political arena went into effect on May 23. Unified local elections under the law will be held for the first time nationwide in April 2019.

The lecture on Nov. 18, organized by the Academy for Gender Parity, a general incorporated association that aims to nurture female politicians, consisted of a talk followed by discussions among participants on drawing up their plans.

Four potential candidates learned how to create video messages on the day.

“When my child entered an after-school care facility, I didn't want him to feel alone and sought extended hours of service,” one participant said into a camera about her motive for becoming a politician.

“For the local government to accept my request, I drew up a petition and submitted it to the assembly," she added in the trial promotion video. "I came to think that our generation should make changes to society for the future.”

While movements are growing to involve more women in politics in this country, potential female candidates continue to face a number of barriers and progress has been slow.

According to a survey by the The Asahi Shimbun prior to previous unified local elections in 2015, there were 379 zero assemblies, or 21.2 percent, with women accounting for just 11.7 percent of assembly members as of Jan. 1, 2015.

Over the next three years, the number of zero assemblies decreased by 30 to 19.5 percent of all assemblies, and the rate of female members increased to 12.9 percent.

Still, in 18 prefectures, the percentage of female local assembly members is currently less than 10 percent, and is the highest in Tokyo, at 26.9 percent.

Kazumi Saeki, 59, another participant in the video workshop, is seeking to become a Saitama municipal assembly member in the spring poll.

Saeki decided to run after congratulating her friend who had worked to enact the law of gender equality in politics, who then said to her, "Now it is important that as many women as possible become candidates."

Saeki intends to put together a team of people from a wide range of ages, and with different backgrounds and genders for the election campaign.

"I want people to feel close to the issues by bringing a diverse number of them together and promoting awareness," she said.

The law of gender equality in the political arena requires parties to make efforts to narrow the gap between men and women in national and local assemblies, with a particular focus on how things might change following unified local elections in spring 2019.

Still, political parties are lacking in proactive efforts toward improving the situation.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has held a discussion event called the Women’s Future Leadership Program once a month since April. Women older than 17, and some of whom will run in unified local elections, participate in the sessions themed on such issues as diplomacy and environmental problems.

However, the effort is unlikely to lead to an increase in female LDP candidates, as such candidates tend to run without any party affiliation, with the endorsement authority left to each prefectural chapter of the LDP.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and the Japanese Communist Party had the highest percentage of female candidates for the Lower House election in 2017, at 24 percent.

Toward the Upper House vote next summer, the CDP is focusing on “diversity” and as a policy seeks to boost the rate of female proportional-representation candidates to 40 percent or higher.

However, the CDP does not have any numerical goal for the unified local elections. The number of female candidates for the spring election is 112, accounting for 26 percent of all 428 who have been endorsed or recommended by the party.

Progress in putting forth candidates is lagging somewhat, as the party has yet to set up offices in all prefectures.

(This article was written by Azusa Mishima, Sawa Okabayashi, Asako Myoraku and Taro Nakazaki)