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The Times October 15, 2005
Rising daughters face uphill task
By Richard Lloyd Parry
New women MPs will struggle to beat Japan’s male prejudice
WOMEN MPs, who were elected in record numbers in Japan last month, are waging a battle with the conservative male forces within the ruling party of Junichiro Koizumi, the Prime Minister, to speed up the reform of women’s rights.
Forty-three women were elected to the 480-seat chamber, exceeding the record of 39 set in 1946, and most are in Mr Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), traditionally the most paternalistic and male-dominated of the political groups.
For the snap election Mr Koizumi recruited a number of prominent female “assassins” to run against rebel LDP politicians who had opposed him over the issue of post- office privatisation.
Women were placed high on the lists of LDP candidates for the seats allocated by proportional representation and all 26 women candidates running for the party made it into parliament. The scene is set for a struggle between the newly empowered female MPs and their conservative male colleagues. Under the slogans of “gender empowerment” on the one hand and “family values” on the other, the sides are waging a struggle that has profound implications for Japanese society and economic prosperity.
“This election . . . is a threshold of change for women in politics,” Kuniko Inoguchi, a former professor and one of the newly elected women, said. “We now have the highest number of female MPs ever. This is a national achievement and it is the achievement of Mr Koizumi, who made the strategic decision to promote women.” The Prime Minister has taken on the job of president of the Headquarters for the Promotion of Gender Equality. But even with this high-level leadership, the status of women remains dismal.
In the professions Japanese women lag behind their sisters in the rest of the developed world. Only one in eight Japanese lawyers is a woman, as is one in ten company managers, one in thirty ambassadors and one in seventy senior civil servants.
Within the political world, there is an increasingly vocal male opposition to gender reform. Yoshiro Mori, a former Prime Minister, has suggested that childless women should be deprived of their pensions. “Welfare is supposed to take care of and reward those women who have lots of children,” he said.
More alarming to campaigners for equality are the less outspoken remarks by Shinzo Abe, an up-and-coming figure within the LDP who is the favourite to succeed Mr Koizumi as Prime Minister.
“A (gender equality) concept which ignores the value of marriage and the family is linked to the destruction of culture,” he said recently.