Female candidates: Japanese women push to change political landscape

Female candidates: Japanese women push to change political landscape

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Yoshii Aya traveled to Kyoto last month to attend a three-day training camp for women trying to break into Japan’s male-dominated politics. At the time, the mother of two was still reeling from a bitter city council election defeat in April, but she says she felt reenergized by connecting with like-minded women at the event, which was organized by the Academy for Gender Parity.

Japan has one of the lowest rates of female legislature representation in the world. During the recent upper house race, a record 35 women gained seats in Japan’s parliament, raising the overall ratio of women in the chamber to 25.8% from 23.1%. It’s the kind of incremental progress that has Japanese women’s patience wearing thin, especially as they see women making gains in other countries such as the United States and New Zealand.

Why We Wrote This

Cooperation is helping some Japanese women break into politics. For many others, it’s a way to cope with election losses and incremental progress.

Increasingly, women are channeling that frustration into cooperation, forming solidarity groups and campaigning for the advancement of fellow female politicians. 

“We’ve seen rising momentum, which did not exist a decade ago,” says former city councilor Nakamoto Michiko, who recently started a consulting group with a friend to help more women win seats in local legislatures.

Kyoto, Japan

On a sweltering day in July, Yoshii Aya, still reeling from her bitter election defeat a few months prior, arrived in Kyoto with a stack of leftover business cards tailored for that bygone race. During a three-day political training camp for women trying to break into Japan’s male-dominated politics, she coyly passed them out as a “memento of my candidacy.”

Had she won the April election, Ms. Yoshii would have become one of two women sitting on the 20-member city council in Miyoshi, Japan. Instead, she spent her summer reflecting on the loss, and learning campaign financing and social media strategy along with 15 other training camp participants.

Ms. Yoshii says she felt empowered by connecting with like-minded women at the camp, which was organized by Tokyo’s Academy for Gender Parity.

Why We Wrote This

Cooperation is helping some Japanese women break into politics. For many others, it’s a way to cope with election losses and incremental progress.

The event comes less than a year before the 2023 local elections, and as Japan continues to exhibit one of the lowest rates of female legislature representation in the world. During last month’s upper house race, a record 35 women gained seats in Japan’s parliament, raising the overall ratio of women in the chamber to 25.8% from 23.1%. It’s the kind of incremental progress that has Japanese women’s patience wearing thin. Many point out that the United States now has its first female vice president, and New Zealand and Taiwan both have female heads of state. 

Increasingly, women are channeling that frustration into cooperation, forming solidarity groups and campaigning for the advancement of fellow female politicians. Academy co-founders Miura Mari and Shin Ki-young say that not only are more women interested in entering politics, but their ambitions are growing as well.

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