Japan parties split over women candidate numbers for upper house election

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A woman, who intends to run for the House of Councillors election, waves her hand to passers-by on a street in Fukuoka on June 15.

Major political parties have expressed a desire to field more female candidates in the upcoming House of Councillors election, but less than half have set numerical targets, according to a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

The survey was conducted between late May and early June ahead of the upper house election campaign, which officially kicks off on June 22. The Yomiuri Shimbun asked nine parties how many women candidates they planned to field and whether they had set a gender-based target ratio, as of June 1.

The law concerning gender equality in the political realm, which came into force in 2018, calls for political parties and other entities to set numerical targets for male and female candidates. The latest survey found that only four of the nine parties have set such goals. Of these, three parties — the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) — have set a target of 50% women candidates.

The ruling parties, however, have no concrete figures for female representation. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said it has asked local organizations to proactively field women, while Komeito said it is considering setting numerical targets in the future.

“Targets must be set to increase the number of female candidates, but the parties are polarized in their approach,” said Akio Igarashi, a professor emeritus at Rikkyo University and director at Ichikawa Fusae Center for Women and Governance, a Tokyo-based public-interest foundation.

Citing “political mindset” as one reason for the parties’ tardiness, Igarashi said, “Political parties likely think voters attach little importance to whether a candidate is a woman or not when casting their vote.”

The CDPJ, the JCP and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) plan to field their target-number of women candidates, while other parties, including the LDP and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), which have no specific targets, plan to field more women than they did in the previous upper house election.

Promoting women

Each of the surveyed parties said they have taken measures to nurture and promote women. Taking lifestyle issues into consideration, the CDPJ, the DPFP, and Nippon Ishin no Kai have each established support systems for female candidates, including a babysitting subsidy.

The LDP said it has conducted in-service training to help boost the number of women who play an active role in politics.

The government’s Fifth Basic Plan for Gender Equality stipulates that 35% of national election candidates should be women by 2025.

“It’s essential for political parties to make efforts to appoint women to appropriate posts, such as those that allow them to select candidates,” Igarashi said. “The parties should also help deepen voters’ awareness that female candidates will have a positive impact on policies, which, in turn, will benefit the whole of society.”