Last week Japan passed legislation aimed at encouraging female participation in politics a year after its initial introduction to the Diet. While it does not prescribe specific targets and penalties, the bill can provide a foundation towards necessary change in Japan.
On 16 May, Japan’s parliament passed a law to encourage female candidates to stand for local and national elections.
Although no specific targets are set in the legislation, it places the responsibility of raising awareness of female participation in politics on the central and local governments. The bill urges political parties to equalise “as much as possible” the number of male and female candidates in local and national elections.
The bill has received criticism as it does not include any incentives for political parties to act nor does it include any penalties for those who do not comply. However if this had this been included in the bill, there is a question as to whether it would have passed. While not being legally binding, the unanimity the bill received in the Upper House is sure to place pressure on political parties to act in accordance with the principles of the law.
The true effectiveness of the law will be judged both by parties’ offerings at the regional and Upper House elections next year and by the response of voters. While no penalties or incentives are provided to political parties to act, voters have the power to hold political parties accountable for their responses and recognition of the principles of the law. Voters can consider ‘which parties really respect the spirit of the law and are making serious efforts to increase the number of female lawmakers.’
Responsibility is placed on central and local governments to raise awareness of female participation in politics. Nevertheless, it is important for all to contribute to enhancing female participation and representation in and beyond the political realm. An increase in the visibility of female leaders across a diversity of sectors will contribute to enhancing the number of women undertaking professional pursuits in a variety of fields.
Seiko Noda, Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications and Minister in charge of Women’s Empowerment, played a critical role in the drafting of the legislation. Minister Noda, as one of only two women in Prime Minister Abe’s current Cabinet, has led the way on many front’s in women’s empowerment in Japan. These include the formation of a multi-partisan group to promote the active participation of child-rearing colleagues in the Diet, the opening of a political school in Gifu Prefecture to foster female politicians, her involvement in the drafting of this law to encourage female candidates to stand for office, and more recently her advocacy for the introduction of a law to strengthen relief and protection for victims of sexual harassment.
Other efforts for female empowerment in Japan include those of Melanie Brock, of Melanie Brock Advisory, and the current Chair Emeritus of the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Brock has recently launched the Celebrating Women in Japan project which celebrates women in Japan from all walks of life. The project not only showcases the achievements of women in Japan but also features advice shared by each of the women profiled. Both Minister Noda and Ms Brock are making significant contributions to the empowerment of women within Japan.
The need for institutional reform for gender parity and labour reform in Japan remains apparent. Domestic political scandals and the increasing volatility on the Korean peninsula have drawn the attention of Japan’s lawmakers away from important legislation. The bill that passed on Wednesday had originally been debated in the Diet in 2017 before being sidelined amidst the cronyism scandal. It is possible that these distractions also contributed to the delay in the government’s work-style reform legislation, originally intended to be submitted to the Diet in late February of this year but delayed due to errors.
The passing of the law is encouraging and provides a foundation for Japanese lawmakers to begin to tackle other necessary reforms including legal revisions, work reform and the development of other frameworks which work towards attaining gender parity and increased female participation. This law is an important first step towards necessary change in Japan. Through ensuring that political parties adhere to the principles of this law, voters and civil society can contribute to the pursuit of positive and necessary change in Japan and an improved democratic system that is truly representative of Japanese society.
Krystal Hartig is a Research and Program Assistant at the Perth USAsia Centre. She completed her Master of International Affairs at the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs in 2016 and Bachelor of Arts majoring in Asian Studies and Politics & International Studies at Murdoch University in 2014.
This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and can be republished with attribution. This article was published in its current form on 24 May 2018.