“It’s Harassment, Pure and Simple”: Being a Woman in Japanese Politics

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“It’s Harassment, Pure and Simple”: Being a Woman in Japanese Politics


MAri Yasuda has come to dread checking his social media accounts. While a TV show called the candidate “one to watch” in this month’s Japanese general election, her anonymous correspondents make no secret of their belief that as a woman she should not run for office at all. legislative.

“They accuse me of sleeping with powerful men to get ahead or of making abusive comments on calls to our office,” said Yasuda, who is running for a seat in Hyogo Prefecture for the party. Constitutional Democratic opposition of Japan. “I get emails from men who notice my appearance or ask me for a date. “

Sexual harassment is becoming a reality for women running for office in Japan, where women’s participation in politics is already one of the lowest in the world. Despite the recent emergence of diversity and gender as topics of public debate – and signs that voters are more progressive than many of their representatives – the country’s politics have been immune to change, according to Yasuda.

“There are many areas of Japanese life in which women are underrepresented and feel unable to express themselves, but this is particularly prevalent in politics,” she said.

Despite the repeated wishes of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during her nine years in power to create a society “in which women shine,” the election of the lower house on October 31 will add to fears that in the In the political sphere, the glass ceiling has only been reinforced.

While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is expected to win by a large margin – albeit with a reduced majority – the powerful chamber will once again be dominated by men.

Of the 1,051 candidates, only 186 – less than 18% – are women, despite the introduction in 2018 of a gender equality law encouraging parties to select a similar number of male and female candidates. This is a little less than in the previous elections of 2017.

“It’s almost as if men become deputies by birthright,” says Yasuda, who once campaigned alone but is now accompanied by two colleagues. “If ordinary people thought politics was more relevant in their daily life, then it would be natural for more women to be elected. But most people feel estranged from politicians, as if politics are something for “special” people… in the case of Japan, middle-aged and older men. “

Yoshiko Maeda, West Tokyo councilor since 2015, says sexism isn’t limited to social media. As a member of the Alliance of Feminist Representatives of Japan, Maeda says she has received reports from female politicians across Japan who experience harassment from male colleagues, ranging from heckling during debates to harassment. sustained pressure for them to resign. “It’s bullying, outright,” she said.

Local councils with only one or a handful of women can be particularly intimidating, says Maeda, who received a flood of online abuse when the alliance called for the removal of a “sexualized” virtual mascot who had been enlisted for. promote bicycle safety among schoolchildren. in a city near Tokyo.

The atmosphere in council chambers and the well-documented accounts of sexual harassment targeting female politicians and female candidates almost certainly deter other women from running for office, she says, though she is quick to point out that ‘she has not encountered any sexist insults in the city she represents.

“Even those who want to get involved in politics often give up on the idea due to opposition from family members. There are still so many obstacles for women to become politicians. “

Earlier this year, the cabinet office revealed that female politicians and female candidates faced “rampant” sexual harassment, including inappropriate touching and verbal advances from male voters. Of the 1,247 female members of local assemblies surveyed, 57.6% said they had been sexually harassed by voters, supporters or other members of the assembly. Many have said they have been the targets of sexually explicit or gender-based insults.

Harassment aside, the low number of female candidates in this month’s election is proof that Japan has failed to remove structural barriers to electing more women to parliament, Mari says. Miura, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.

“Outgoing MPs have a huge advantage in the Japanese election, so as long as the LDP remains the largest party by far, there will be very little change in the makeup of MPs,” Miura said. “It only happens when an opposition party wins. “

Seiko Noda: “The current positions are mostly held by men, and the party has not gone so far as to push them aside to make room for women. “ Photography: Franck Robichon / EPA

The LDP, which presents 33 women out of 336 candidates in the October 31 elections, has not lost an election to the lower house since 2009 and has governed almost continuously since the 1950s. The result is a chamber full of men, including many, including the current Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, are second or third generation politicians.

“If an incumbent raises their hand, they can get priority to become a candidate in the next election,” Seiko Noda, Minister of Gender Equality, recently said. “The current positions are predominantly held by men, and the party has not gone so far as to push them back to make way for women.

Japan ranks poorly in international comparisons of women’s representation, ranking 165th out of 190 countries, with women accounting for just 9.9% of lower house deputies, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The picture is no different in local politics: just over 30% of town and village assemblies do not have female representatives, according to 2019 figures.

“In many cases, the only way for women to get the approval of a major party is to go over the heads of the prefectural parties that are in charge of the selection process and use personal networks to appeal to the powerful men of the party, ”says Miura. . “Japan should introduce quotas for female candidates and remove structural barriers to candidacy. Unless he does, I see no prospect of change in the near future.

Kishida, who has vowed to redistribute wealth to the struggling Japanese middle class, has appointed just three women to his 20-member cabinet and opposes calls to allow married couples to use separate surnames and legalize same-sex marriages.

“Japanese society is changing,” Miura said, citing a growing awareness among young people of issues such as the climate emergency and gender inequality. “But Japanese policy has remained exactly the same. “

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