|"DAWN" Newsletter of The DAWN CENTER
|Advances in Politics by Japanese Women
|Researcher on Women Policies
|Women Challenging a Thick Wall
|On June 25, in the last general election in the 20th century,
35 women were elected to the House of Representatives (Lower House), Japan's 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 constituencies (1), 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 can't 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, "Japanese women barely get close
to men's feet."
According to a survey conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2) covering
164 countries, Japan's 7.3% ranked 105th along with Central Africa and Romania.
The United Nations have urged member states to "increase the percentage of
women assembly representatives at least to 30% so that they have an influence."
Japan is far short of this target.
Why are there so few women in Japan's 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 "heritage" from the incumbent.
It is known in Japanese as "jiban," which is a firmly protected support
base, "kanban," strong name value, and "kaban," 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 today's 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 representation 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 "heredity," 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. In the case of proportional
representation constituencies, the most important candidate is ranked first in
a party's 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 women's
votes. The era has finally arrived when no political party can ignore the influence
One of the reasons why political parties cannot ignore women may be that they
cannot resist the growing public demand for "More Women to Assemblies!"
In the 1990s, a citizen group called "Alliance of Feminist Representatives"
was established (1992), joining existing organizations such as "The Fusae
Ichikawa Memorial Association" and "The League of Women Voters of Japan."
The alliance, for the first time in Japan, advocated the quota system to "increasethe
percentage of women representatives at least to the 30% level." 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 Women's Conference in 1995, so-called "backup
schools" 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 the 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 subsidies from the government, (4) the financial
resources of backup schools are from their organizers' own funds and membership
fees. What drove women to establish backup schools was a strong sense of mission
to increase women's 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 "Women's Solidarity Foundation." A year later, former Education
Minister Yoshiko Akamatsu and former Asahi Shinbun reporter Mitsuko Shimomura
set up "WIN WIN," a Japanese version of the U.S. group "EMILY's
List."(5) It is a political organization whose members select a woman candidate
from the organization's recommendation list and support her by contributing 10,000
yen or more. Japan's first woman governor Fusae Ohta was its first recommended
In addition to such organizations established one after another demanding "More
Women to Assemblies!" a one-shot promotion called "Women and Politics
Campaign 1999," which was conducted before last year's unified local elections
in 1999, was also worthy of attention. This campaign developed from the "Eliminate
Zero-Women Representatives Assembly" 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:
||Give concrete examples to show that a lack of women's 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.
||Give a demonstration in front of each prefectural office, whilst displaying
a banner saying "More Women to Assemblies!"
|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 to 6%. Furthermore, women were elected to
assemblies of all the 10 prefectures which had not had any women representatives
before (Iwate, Akita, Niigata, Toyama, Tottori, Shimane, Tokushima, Ehime, Nagasaki,
Apart from such feminist movements, the "Representative Authorization Campaign,"
which developed from the Consumers' 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 57 in Tokyo and from 3 to 18
in Chiba (7) for example. The campaign also brought about the inauguration of
Tokyo's 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 don't have any women representatives
in their assemblies. Taking the issue of the aging society for example, it is
essential to reflect women's voices in politics and change the order of political
priorities. Now is the time to take action.
||Japan's House of Representatives 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.
||IPU (Inter-Parliamentary Union) is an international organization headquartered
in Switzerland, which fosters dialogue among parliaments of more than 100 nations.
||The average annual wage of Japanese women is 50 to 60% that of men, with part-time
||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.
||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
||"Women and Politics Campaign 1999 Report" (Women and Politics Campaign
||Sources: the Tokyo Citizen's Network and the Citizen's Network Chiba, Refer
|Women Ratio from Graph and Chart
|1.Female ratio among all candidates
|2.Number of candidates in single-member districts by sex
|Over 50% Women in Social Democratic Party, Over 10% Only
in 5 Parties.
|Women in elected members by political parties
(*)480 seats,1 vacancy
|(by Mitsui Mariko,based on news reports from Asahi Shimbun,Mainichi Shimbun,Yomiuri
**2000.07.02 Correction made to overall number elected and subsequent female ratio
for Democratic Party and komei Party.
|Women Over 10% Only in Kinki Area.There Should Be a Woman
in Every Prefecture!
|Women elected for diet by district blocks
(single-seat constituency and proportional representation combined)
(by Mitsui Mariko, based on 2000/06/26 reports in Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun,
* 2000.08.03 Correction made to overall number elected and subsequent female ratio
for Kita-Kantou and Kyushu.
|Supporting Groups on "Women and Politics"
|"WOMEN'S SOLIDARITY FOUNDATION"
|Established in 1997 in the U.S., the Women's 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 women's 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 Women's Solidarity Foundation (WSF) has established the Empowerment Grant
to promote women's 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
women's 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.
|For the purpose of women's positive commitment to policy decision-making,
the organization "WIN WIN" 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 "The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women" and the enactment of "Equal Employment Opportunities
Act" when she was Minister of Education. In 1995, she was awarded the grand
prix of "The Primura Prize," which is given to pioneer activities, by
the Osaka Prefectural Women's Fund.
"WIN WIN" 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.
|"FUSAE ICHIKAWA MEMORIAL FOUNDATION"
|Admitted as a foundational juridical person by the Home Affair
Ministry, the Fusae Ichikawa Memorial Foundation is a corporation acting "to
provide political education for women, to propagate ideal and fine elections,
and to build the foundation of Japan's democracy." It administers the "Fusen
Kaikan (Women's Suffrage Center)," which was built as a stronghold of the
women's suffrage movement in 1946, and promotes activities for women to participate
It started the "Women's Participant in the Politics Promotion Center"
in 1994. After just one-year's 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 women's contributions to politics, the center organizes two
courses, one for those who will run for election soon and one as a complete study
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