Photo/Illutration A female candidate in the Upper House election asks for support from voters in Saitama Prefecture on June 22 as the election campaign officially started. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A record number of women emerged victorious in the Upper House election on July 10, where about half of all seats in the chamber were up for grabs.

Four years have passed since the Law on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field took effect, calling on political parties to make the numbers of male and female candidates as even as possible.

The situation has finally turned for the better, but women still account for less than 30 percent of all successful candidates.

We call for further efforts by political parties that are lagging behind in the move, including the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Thirty-five women won seats in the upper chamber, topping the previous record of 28 set in 2016 and 2019. Women also accounted for more than 30 percent of all candidates for the first time in the postwar history of national elections, including Lower House polls.

More than half of the candidates fielded by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party were women. Women also accounted for half or more of all successful candidates from each of the two opposition parties.

The LDP, by contrast, remained a far cry from the ideals of gender parity.

The LDP set the target of having women account for 30 percent of all its candidates in the proportional representation constituency. The party achieved that goal by adding females to its list of candidates at the last minute before the election, but the LDP was obviously ill-prepared.

It was not easy for the ruling party to make arrangements to back female candidates in electoral districts, where it has many male incumbents. Overall, females accounted for less than 25 percent of all candidates from the LDP, and only about 20 percent of all successful candidates from the party.

The Lower House in April and May took a survey of all its members, and of all political parties that have seats in the chamber, to review the current state of the Diet from the standpoint of gender equality.

About 80 percent of the Lower House members who responded said they believe the present number of female lawmakers is either “insufficient” or “somewhat insufficient.”

About half of the respondents said they believe, or somewhat believe, that there is a need for a system to secure a certain number of female lawmakers. In their free-text answers, many called for the introduction of a quota system for setting aside a certain number of candidates or seats for women.

Given that such understanding is gaining currency among the lawmakers, the time is probably ripe for giving serious thought to introducing a similar system by way of a next step. One idea would be to take a similar measure in the proportional representation constituency, where the hurdles are relatively low for doing so.

The World Economic Forum on July 13 released the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, where Japan continued to drift in the lower reaches, ranking 116th among the 146 countries studied. The ranking is based on a comprehensive review of data from the four domains of politics, the economy, education and health.

Japan’s overall rating was heavily affected by the low scores in the field of politics, including in the ratio of women among lawmakers and Cabinet members, and in the field of the economy, including in the income disparity between both sexes and the ratio of females in managerial positions.

Although certain progress was marked in the Upper House election, only 45 women won seats in the Lower House election last year, down two from the penultimate poll, with the ratio of women among all successful candidates falling below the 10-percent mark.

The barrier of male incumbents appears to be even higher in Lower House elections, which are centered on single-seat constituencies, than in the electoral districts for the Upper House.

On the plane of local assemblies, many prefectures of Japan are characterized by few women ever running for seats or serving on assemblies, and the situation is even more striking than on the level of the national legislature.

Political parties should intensify their efforts now in the run-up to the unified local elections next spring.

And it is also essential to foster an environment that would lower the hurdles for female candidacies, including by taking measures against the harassment of female candidates and assembly members.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 14