Photo/Illutration Backed by opposition parties, Haruko Miyaguchi, center, won in the Upper House re-election in Hiroshima in April. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Women make up half of the population, yet they account for only 10 percent of Lower House members and occupy just 20 percent of seats in the upper chamber, a level of political representation that ranks among the lowest in the world.

Each political party has an obligation to field as many female candidates as possible in the Lower House election that must be held by autumn to help correct this gender disparity in politics.

Three years have passed since a law to promote candidate gender parity in both national and local elections came into force. It calls for political parties to make utmost efforts to ensure the numbers of their male and female candidates match as far as possible.

The upcoming poll will be the first one in which members of the lower chamber are elected after the new law was enacted.

Women constituted only 28 percent of all candidates for the Upper House election in 2019, the first national poll held after the law took effect.

The ratios of female candidates were 45 percent for the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and 55 percent for the Japanese Communist Party. But those for the ruling parties were conspicuously low: 15 percent for the Liberal Democratic Party and 8 percent for Komeito, its junior coalition partner.

The ruling parties seemingly are unwilling to take the law seriously because it does not provide punishment for noncompliance. The Lower House election will be a major test of the parties’ commitment to the cause.

The LDP’s special committee on promoting womens active participation is discussing a proposal to raise the ratio of the party’s female candidates to 15 percent for the Lower House election, up from about 8 percent for the previous Lower House poll, and to 30 percent by 2030.

Many LDP lawmakers are apparently opposed to the plan, but they should remember that the law was passed unanimously, with their party also voting for it. The party’s decision concerning the proposal will underscore the LDP leadership’s stance toward the issue.

Lawmakers elected from the single-seat constituencies for the Lower House tend to be seen as local representatives; hence, parties generally prefer incumbents as their candidates for these constituencies.

This poses structural problems that create obstacles for newcomers, not just women, to be elected from these constituencies.

However, it is vital for parties to sharply increase female candidates for single-seat constituencies if they are to aim for candidate gender parity.

All of the parties should take this opportunity to undertake a fundamental review of the way they select candidates if they are intent on helping expanding diversity in national politics, not just in terms of gender.

As many candidates for single-seat districts have been determined, the 11 regional blocs for the party list system of proportional representation can be used as an effective tool to rectify the situation. Parties can increase their female representation by placing more women higher on their lists.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 has again underscored the grim reality of gender inequality in Japan, ranking the country 120th out of the 156 nations covered.

The primary factor behind the dismal performance is a yawning gender gap in politics as measured by the ratios of women among members of the Diet and the Cabinet.

A nonpartisan group of Diet members is working on a proposal to revise the candidate gender parity law to give it more teeth.

It is considering a revision that would require parties to set targets for ratios of women among their candidates.

Even though a consensus among parties has yet to be reached, this idea should be adopted as the next step toward gender equality in politics.

If this change fails to improve the situation significantly, the Diet should consider introducing a gender quota system that would set aside a certain percentage of seats for women or mandate a certain ratio of women among a party’s candidates.

Political parties also need to make efforts to make it easier for women to run for elections and train them to be candidates.

The diverse policy challenges confronting the nation require a legislature with a greater number of women.

The only force that can bring about the change is a greater number of votes for parties and politicians committed to the empowerment of women in politics.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 4