Advances in Politics by Japanese Women 

 

 


Women Challenging a Thick Wall

 

Written by Mariko Mitsui

Researcher on Women Policies

 

 

On June 25, 2000, in the last general election in the 20th century, 35 women were elected to the House of Representatives (Lower House), Japanfs highest legislative body. This figure represents an increase of more than 50% from the 23 seats gained in the previous general election 4 years ago. Considering that the number of proportional representation constituenciesi1j, in which women have a fair chance of success, was reduced, this increase can be described as explosive. Even in a male-dominated nation like Japan, advances in politics by women can no longer be stopped.

 

However, we canft simply stop at this. Women account for only 7.3% of the 480-member Lower House. Seeing an illustration of the results on the Internet, a friend of mine who lives in the United States said, gJapanese women barely get close to menfs feet.h

 

According to a survey conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2) covering 164 countries, Japanfs 7.3% ranked 105th along with Central Africa and Romania. The United Nations have urged member states to gincreases the percentage of women assembly representatives at least to 30% so that they have an influenceh. Japan is far short of this target.

 

Why are there so few women in Japanfs politics? This is due mainly to its election system. In most constituencies, the Lower House adopts a single-seat system in which only one candidate is elected. Under the system, each political party fields only one candidate. In order to increase the number of women representatives, more women have to run for election. In order to be a major candidate, however, a woman has to win the party ticket by defeating an incumbent male representative. But generally the only instance in which a new candidate can replace an incumbent is when she or he is lucky to take over the gheritageh from the incumbent. It is known in Japanese as gjiban,h which is a firmly protected support base, gkanban,h strong name value, and gkaban,h literally a suitcase, but implying a large amount in campaign funds. Therefore, it is almost impossible for an ordinary citizen to run for a single-seat constituency, much less for an ordinary woman who is economically disadvantaged(3). In Japan, the Lower House had long adopted a multi-seat constituency system, with fixed seats of 3 to 5 per constituency. This irregular large constituency system is rarely seen in other countries of the world. Under this system, it was only the Liberal Democratic Party that was able to field multiple candidates. Other parties fielded only one candidate, which handicapped women. Under todayfs single-seat constituency system, women are put in an even more unfavorable position.

 

For decades, the percentage of women representatives in the Lower House has been hovering around the 1 to 2% level. In 1996 the percentage increased to the 4% level because of a partial introduction of the proportional representative system for 200 seats. At that time, in fact 70% of the women elected were from proportional representation constituencies and only one new woman representative was elected in a single-seat constituency.

 

Although 20 seats were cut from the proportional representation seats in 1999, the 50% increase was achieved in this general election because many political parties were willing to back women candidates. However, only 13 women (4%) were elected in single-seat constituencies and, as expected, many of them were hereditary candidates whose fathers, grandfathers, or husbands were influential politicians. For women without such gheredity,h this general election was an extremely hard one. All the 15 women candidates in Tokyo and all the 14 women candidates in Fukuoka failed to be elected. However, the fact that a record number of 166 women challenged for seats in the election should be evaluated as showing that women are gaining strength within political parties.

 

On the other hand, in proportional representation constituencies, of all 180 successful candidates, 22 were women. In other words, women accounted for 12.2%, three times as high as the percentage in single-seat constituencies. On the case proportional representation constituencies, the most important candidate is ranked first in a partyfs candidate list. Even the Liberal Democratic Party put a woman at the top of its list in 2 of 11 blocks, taking account of the importance of womenfs votes. The era has finally arrived when no political party can ignore the influence of women.

 

One of the reasons why political parties cannot ignore women may be that they cannot resist the growing public demand for gMore Women to Assemblies!h In the 1990s, a citizen group called gAlliance of Feminist Representativesh was established (1992), joining existing organizations such as gThe Fusae Ichikawa Memorial Associationh and gThe League of Women Voters of Japan.h The alliance, for the first time in Japan, advocated the quota system to gincrease the percentage of women representatives at least to the 30% level.h It was at the forefront of campaigns to change the policy agenda by increasing the number of women representatives.

 

At about the time of the Beijing Womenfs Conference in 1995, so-called gbackup schoolsh were established in many parts of Japan. In the past, political parties had been exclusively responsible for finding new candidates, working out election strategies and providing training to representatives.

 

Concerned that the number of women representatives would not increase if they put everything in hands of male dominated political parties, women began to establish new organizations, called backup schools which were unaffiliated with political parties, and strove to send more women to assemblies. While political parties are richly funded by billions of yen in subsides from the government(4) ,the financial resources of backup schools are from their organizersf own funds and membership fees. What drove women to establish backup schools was a strong sense of mission to increase womenfs presence in politics, as well as the organizing power accumulated over the years.

 

New organizations to subsidize and support mushrooming backup schools were also established. In 1998, former member of the House of Councilors Tamako Nakanishi set up the gWomenfs Solidarity Foundation.h A year later, former Education Minister Yoshiko Akamatsu and Former Asahi Shimbun reporter Mitsuko Shimomura set up gWIN WIN,h a Japanese version of the U.S. group gEMILYfs List.h (5) It is a political organization whose members select a woman candidate from the organizationfs recommendation list and support her by contributing 10,000 yen or more. Japanfs first woman governor Fusae Ohta was its first recommended candidate.

 

In addition to such organizations established one after another demanding gMore Women to Assemblies!h a one-shot promotion called gWomen and Politics Campaign 1999,h which was conducted before last yearfs until local elections in 1999, was also worthy of attention. This campaign developed from the gEliminate Zero-Women Representatives Assemblyh project by the Alliance of Feminist Representatives. The alliance focused its attention on the fact that there were no women representatives in more than half of about 3,300 local governments, and launched the project in 1997. In line with the concept, campaigners took the following actions simultaneously in 47 prefectures throughout Japan before the unified local elections in 1999:

 

(1)  Give concrete examples to show that a lack of womenfs participation in politics represents an extremely distorted phenomenon for a democratic nation, and hold press conferences making an appeal for the necessity of increased women representatives in local assemblies.

(2)  Give a demonstration in front of each prefectural office, whilst displaying a banner saying gMore Women to Assemblies!h

 

This campaign gained a lot of attention in the media and the movement to increase the number of women representatives gained momentum and spread to various parts of Japan, encouraging women who were undecided as to whether or not to run for the election to make up their mind. At the same time, women, fed up with assemblies overwhelmingly dominated by men, urged promising women to run for election. Such movements resulted in a historic achievement. In prefectures cities, towns and villages, a total of 2,381 women were elected, with the percentage of women increasing from the 4% level of 6%. Furthermore, women were elected to assemblies of all the 10 prefectures which had not had any women representatives before iIwate, Akita, Niigata, Toyama, Tottori, Shimane, Tokushima, Ehime, Nagasaki, Oitaj(U)

 

Apart from such feminist movements, the gRepresentative Authorization Campaign,h which developed from the Consumersf Cooperative activities, also played an important role. Through the campaign, the number of women representatives in local assemblies sharply increased in the past decade, from 20 to 578 in Tokyo and from 3 to 18 in Chiba (7) for example. The campaign also brought about the inauguration of Tokyofs first woman mayor in Kunitachi-City.

 

Fifty years have passed since Japanese women got the suffrage. Realizing that the situation would become worse if they left politics to men, women have now stood up. Yet, 46% of cities, towns and villages still donft have any women representatives in their assemblies. Taking the issue of the aging society for example, it is essential to reflect womenfs voices in politics and change the order of political priorities. Now is the time to take action.

 

 

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Note

(1)   Japanfs House of Representative adopts a combination of single-seat and proportional representation constituency systems, with 300 seats elected through the former and 180 seats elected through the latter.

(2)   IPU(Inter-Parliamentary Union) is an international organization headquartered in Switzerland, which fosters dialogue among parliaments of more than 100 nations. http://www.ipu.org/

(3)   The average annual wage of Japanese women is 50 to 60% that of men, with part-time jobs excluded.

(4)   The total sum of political subsidies is about 31.4 billion yen, with 14.8 billion yen to the Liberal Democratic Party, 6.9 billion yen to the Democratic Party, 3.3 billion yen to the Komei Party, 2.8 billion to the Liberal Party, and 2.0 billion yen to the Social Democratic Party.

(5)   Born in Washington in 1985 for the purpose of increasing the number of women representatives of the Democratic Party. EMILY represents Early Money Is Like Yeast. http://www.emilyslist.org/

(6)   gWomen and Politics Campaign 1999 Reporth(Women and Politics Campaign Office, 1999).

(7)   Sources: the Tokyo Citizenfs Network and the Citizenfs Network Chiba, Refer http://www1.jca.apc.org/fem/senkyo/index_en.html

 

Women Ratio from Graph and Chart

1.     Female ratio among all candidates

The Total Number of Candidates

 

2.    Number of candidates in single-member districts

http://www1.jca.apc.org/fem/senkyo/shuugiin/candi5_en.html

 

Over 50% Women in Social Democratic Party, Over 10% Only in 5 Parties.

Women in elected members by political parties

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@ candidate female elected female

 

women @overall @@ ratio(%) women overall ratio(%)

Liberal Democratic

11

337

3.3

8

233

3.4

 

Democratic

26

262

9.9

6

127

4.7

 

Komeito

16

74

21.6

3

30

10.0

 

Communist

84

332

25.3

4

20

20.0

 

New Conservative

1

19

5.3

1

7

14.2

 

Liberal

7

75

9.3

1

22

4.5

 

SDP

22

76

28.9

10

19

52.6

 

Reformerfs

0

4

0.0

0

0

0.0

 

Mushozoku

1

11

9.1

1

5

20.0

 

Jiyuu Rengo

26

125

20.8

0

1

0.0

 

Others

3

9

33.3

0

0

0.0

 

Non-party

5

72

6.9

1

15

6.6

 

Total

202

1396

14.5

35

479*

7.3

 

(*) 480 seats, 1 vacancy

(by Mitsui Mariko, based on news reports from Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun,Yomiuri Shimbun 2000/06/13, 2000/06/26)

**2000.07.02 Correction made to overall number elected and subsequent female ratio for Democratic Party and Komei Party.

http://www1.jca.apc.org/fem/senkyo/shuugiin/candi6_en.html

 

 

Women Over 10% Only in Kinki Area. There Should Be a Woman in Every Prefecture!

Women elected for diet by district blocks

isingle-seat constituency and proportional representation combinedj

 

Single

Proportional

Combined

Overall

Percentage(%)

Hokkaido

0

2

2

21

9.5

Tohoku

1

0

1

40

2.5

Kita-Kanto

3

3

6

51

11.7

Minami-Kanto

1

2

3

53

5.6

Tokyo

0

2

2

42

4.7

Hokuriku-Sinetsu

1

1

2

31

6.4

Tokai

2

3

5

55

9.0

Kinki

4

7

11

77

14.2

Chugoku

0

1

1

32

3.1

Shikoku

0

0

0

19

0.0

Kyushu

1

1

2

59

0.3

Total

13

22

35

480

7.3

(by Mitsui Mariko, based on 2000/06/26 reports in Asashi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun)

*2000.08.03 Correction made to overall number elected and subsequent female ratio for Kita-Kantou and Kyushu.

http://www1.jca.apc.org/fem/senkyo/shuugiin/candi7_en.html

 

 

 

gWOMENfS SOLIDARITY FOUNDATIONh

Established in 1997 in the U.S., the Womenfs Solidarity Foundation aims to promote the political, economic and social empowerment of women.

To create a society in which people enjoy peace, justice and gender equality by promoting womenfs participation in policy formation in Japan and elsewhere.

To unite with women all over the world, and work together to create a peaceful international community with equality between women and men.

The Womenfs Solidarity Foundation (WSF) had established the Empowerment Grant to promote womenfs empowerment in all spheres of society, in all nations, but especially in the realm of policy-making.

The grants will be awarded to those individuals or groups who are working to incorporate womenfs voices into policy formulation and decision-making processes, in any nation. The awardees will be selected based on careful examination of their applications by the Screening Committee. 500,000 yen per group.

 

 

gWIN WINh

For the purpose of womenfs positive commitment to policy decision-making, the organization gWIN WINh was started in June,1999, as a membership network of support and fund-raising to send more women into the political world. Now it has 761 members. Each member selects a candidate of her own choice from among the women the organization recommends, and supports the candidate with a donation of 10,000 yen or more.

Ms. Yoshiko Akamatsu, representative of the organization, was instrumental in the ratification of gThe Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Womenh and the enactment of gEqual Employment Opportunities Acth when she was Minister of Education. In 1995, she was awarded the grand prix of gThe Primura Prize,h which is given to pioneer activities, by the Osaka Prefectural Womenfs Fund.

gWIN WINh supports women candidates who aim to participate in the political activity by means of not only fund-raising but all possible aids such as holding press conferences and canvassing.

 

 

gFUSAE ICHIKAWA MEMORIAL FOUNDATIONh

Admitted as a foundational juridical person by the Home Affair Ministry, the Fusae Ichikawa Memorial Foundation is a corporation acting gto provide political education for women, to propagate ideal and fine elections, and to build the foundation of Japanfs democracy.h It administers the gFusen Kaikan (Womenfs Suffrage Center),h which was built as a stronghold of the womenfs suffrage movement in 1946, and promotes activities for women to participate in politics.

It started the gWomenfs Participant in the Politics Promotion Centerh in 1994. After just one-yearfs training for the unified local elections in 1995,67 percent of the participants from all over the country won seats. In order to develop and support womenfs contributions to politics, the center organizes two courses, one for those who will run for election soon and one as a complete study of politics.

 

 

 

DAWN:WOMEN AND POLITICS (DECEMBER 2000)

NEWSLETTER OF THE DAWN CENTER (OSAKA PREFECTURAL WOMENfS CENTER)

Published by Osaka Gender Equality Foundation

http://www.dawncenter.or.jp/