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

The Straits Times - - OPINION - Wal­ter Sim

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.”


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.

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