By Yukako Fukushi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterIn the U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton was unable to break through the “glass ceiling” (see below) that prevents women from rising to the upper rungs of society. Japan is also yet to have a female prime minister. But a growing number of experts believe increasing the number of women participating in politics is necessary for lifting the overall role of women in society.
“I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling. But someday someone will,” Clinton said in a speech in New York on Wednesday, the day after her election defeat. “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
Sophia University Prof. Mari Miura believes a Clinton victory would have had a ripple effect in Japan. “I expected that if Clinton — who has long fought for improving the rights of women — had become president of the United States, it would have [served as a] tailwind for the promotion policies for women in Japan. It’s a pity she lost,” said Miura, an expert in contemporary Japanese politics.
This year has seen the emergence of female leaders in several nations and regions, including Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and British Prime Minister Theresa May. According to Miura, this trend is the result of sustained efforts in many countries to consciously increase the number of female lawmakers, such as by introducing quotas that ensure a certain proportion of candidacies or seats are set aside for women. These have come to prominence since the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing in 1995.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a Switzerland-based international organization of the parliaments of several countries, the proportion of women in the world’s national parliaments rose from 11.3 percent in 1995 to 22.1 percent in 2015.
However, the United States and Japan have not introduced quotas. In 2015, 19.3 percent of U.S. House of Representatives members were women, while just 9.5 percent of lawmakers in Japan’s House of Representatives were women.
“Even if a woman works furiously and gets within touching distance of the glass ceiling, she cannot go beyond that point just on her own strength,” Miura said. “There needs to be reform of the system, including the election system.
“Japan is the same. We need a setup that makes it easier for women to get involved in politics.”
Japan ranked 111th out of 144 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2016 released in October by the World Economic Forum, a Switzerland-based private research institute. This was the lowest among the Group of Seven advanced nations.
Kimiko Kubo, secretary general of the Fusae Ichikawa Center for Women and Governance, a public interest incorporated foundation, said: “The proportion of women in Japan’s Diet and regional assemblies is still low. By increasing these numbers and making it completely normal for women to run in elections and hold important posts, we can expect to see an educational effect on the next generation.”
There are cases of nations that have appointed female leaders pushing ahead with policies affecting women, such as regarding child-rearing.
According to Yasuko Oshima, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute Ltd., policies boosting day care centers and promoting men’s use of paternity leave have advanced in Germany since Angela Merkel became chancellor in 2005.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set a target of having women hold at least 30 percent of leadership positions, such as Diet lawmakers, by 2020.
“If female lawmakers increase, it will become easier for them to reflect the calls of female voters for more measures to help with issues including child-raising and to rectify the long working hours of many employees,” Miura said. “This also will bring change to the working styles of men. Bringing in more female lawmakers and increasing the diversity of assembly members should not be irrelevant for male voters, either.”
■ Glass ceiling
An unseen but existing impediment arising from the male dominance of businesses, organizations and society that blocks women from seeking promotions or moving up in their careers. Glass ceiling, which also applies to minorities, is a term that started being used in the United States in the 1980s.Speech