The Yomiuri Shimbun“Voting harassment” is a social problem in which female political candidates or Diet and local assembly members are grabbed or pawed or endure personal advances by potential voters. It is a problem that has become more visible as an increasing number of women enter the political arena.
“I’ll vote for you, babe,” said a man as he made a sexual gesture. Noriko Matsuda, 41, from Saitama Prefecture’s Koshigaya City Assembly, was a first-time candidate in the unified local elections held four years ago, and still remembers this incident that occurred while she was delivering a street address. She found herself frozen in shock, but the man was a potential voter. She felt she had no choice but to return a stiff smile.
Matsuda did not have an office at the time; her home contact details were on her fliers. She started to get incessant calls from men in the middle of the night. She was rebuked for being a “young girl” and received personal requests to “meet up and get some advice.” At meetings, men would sometimes suddenly embrace her. “They were voters, so I was not sure at what point I could start to say ‘no,’” explained Matsuda, with a troubled expression.
A female assembly member who was more advanced in her career told her: “You’re only a proper assembly member if you can deal with it.” After she complained about the problem at events and other occasions, a male assembly member said to her, coldly: “No one wants to speak to you because you’re making a fuss about sexual harassment.”
However, Matsuda continued to raise the issue, and recently has found some voters who agree with her cause. “I want to create a society in which women can say something is wrong when it is wrong, rather than quietly deflecting the issue,” says Matsuda, more emphatically.
According to a fiscal 2017 survey conducted by the Cabinet Office on female local representatives, 30 percent of the approximately 1,650 respondents answered that they “are sometimes discriminated against or harassed because of gender.” This was as high as 40 percent among women in their 20s to 40s.
A record number of women were elected in the city council and mayoral elections outside of ordinance-designated cities in the unified local elections on April 21 this year. This was reported as “progress for women.” However, there were also incidents of “voting harassment” during election campaign activities.
Yuki Hashimoto, 26, who won her first election in Shibuya Ward Assembly in Tokyo, was one victim of such harassment.
“Politics ain’t no place for women.” “Hurry up and get married and have a kid.” These were the kinds of comments that flew from men’s mouths as Hashimoto was delivering a street address. She also had her arm pulled and her body touched. “If we do not change the way of thinking that sees politics as a men’s realm, we are not going to increase the number of female politicians,” says Hashimoto.
Japan’s political parties have started to look at the problem of “voting harassment.”
A representative of the Komeito headquarters said: “Currently serving and former female politicians will make active inquiries into the concerns and issues faced by female candidates.”
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan established a consultation desk in the party last year. Coinciding with the announcement of the House of Councillors election, harassment prevention handbooks were distributed to female candidates and their election headquarters.
Mariko Bando, a chancellor of Showa Women’s University, pointed out that “there was a lot of sexual harassment and other kinds of offensive speech and behavior in the past, but society has changed since concerned people raised their voices.” She goes on to state: “In order to change social consciousness, female candidates should display an attitude of resolute rejection of the behavior, rather than putting up with it. While this requires courage, the ability to communicate to people that their behavior is wrong — even if these people are your potential voters — is one of the strengths that we require of people taking leadership roles in society.”Speech