As Koike breaks ‘iron plate’ of patriarchy, what’s next?
Tokyo Governor is a rare case, but her rise has cast the spotlight on Japan’s lack of progress in gender equality
for long hours, their chances for promotion are limited.”
Lower House lawmaker Takako Suzuki, 31, drew a torrent of abuse after announcing her pregnancy on her blog in July.
One particularly scathing comment read: “This is why female lawmakers are a problem.”
Lawmaker Megumi Kaneko, 39, was told after she gave birth to a son in February last year: “You’re done for as a politician.”
WHY HAS IT BEEN SO DIFFICULT?
The gender divide and inherent patriarchy are best exemplified by Japan’s oldest and most traditional institution: its royal family. By law, only men can assume the throne.
While society at large is comfortable with a female monarch – a poll by Kyodo News in May showed 86 per cent in support – there has been very little political will to even talk about the possibility for fear of alienating the LDP’s fervent right-wing support base.
“To them, the status of a man will always be higher than that of a woman, and so they see it as a must to strenuously avoid a woman acting as the country’s symbol,” Kobe College historian Hideya Kawanishi told The Straits Times in a previous interview.
And while male royals can keep their title when they marry “commoners”, the opposite does not apply. Princess Mako, 25, will lose her royal status when she weds her paralegal fiance Kei Komuro, 25, next year.
With just one young male prince – Hisahito, 11 – the pressure to produce a son will fall on him and his future wife. Talks which started about a decade ago to allow female monarchs were quickly shelved with his birth, and have never been resuscitated.This lack of political will manifests in how key male LDP leaders have, time and again, spouted sexist remarks that reflect their impressions of women.
In June, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said: “If you only look at her academic background, it’s impeccable, but she is a woman.”
He was referring to Harvard graduate Mayuko Toyota, a former LDP lawmaker who was fired from the party after she made the news for abusing her secretary. She was warded for mental instability.
On the surface, women in Japan are accorded equal societal privileges as men unlike, say, in Saudi Arabia where women were allowed to drive only last month.
Yet Japan lags behind Saudi Arabia for women representation in politics. The Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union ranked Japan 165 out of 193 territories in terms of proportion of female parliamentarians. Saudi Arabia was 66 spots higher at 99. Singapore was 78. And the world’s third-largest economy stands being left in the dust if its antiquated expectations of women persist.
What’s at stake is the clear economic potential: Goldman Sachs has predicted a 13 per cent boost were Japan to close the gender gap.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, founder of the new Party of Hope, at a news conference to announce the party’s campaign platform with her party members in Tokyo last month. As a successful woman in power in Japan, she has smashed what she refers to as an “iron plate” rather than the traditional glass ceiling.