Japan ranked 120th among 156 countries in the gender gap rankings in 2021, remaining in last place among major advanced economies, a Swiss-based think tank said Wednesday.

Japan inched up one place from 121st in 2019, when the ranking was based on 153 countries, but stood far behind Italy, the next worst-ranked member of the Group of Seven industrialized countries, in 63rd place. The World Economic Forum said the level of women's participation in the political and economic arenas remains low in Japan.

Seiko Hashimoto, newly installed head of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee, poses for a photo in Tokyo on Feb. 19, 2021. The 56-year-old, seven-time Olympian succeeded Yoshiro Mori who announced his resignation the previous week over sexist remarks. (Kyodo)

The country's continued poor performance in narrowing the gender gap was highlighted recently by sexist remarks by Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister who was forced to step down as head of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee after saying meetings with women tend to "drag on" because they talk too much.

The WEF report said that although Japan fully closed its gender gap in primary education, the country ranked 147th in political empowerment and 117th in economic participation and opportunity.

The overall gender gap ranking was topped by Iceland for the 12th consecutive year, followed by Finland, Norway and New Zealand. All four top-ranking countries are led by female prime ministers.

The other G-7 countries -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States -- ranked between 11th and 30th. In Asia, the Philippines was the best-performing country at 17th, while South Korea came in 102nd and China 107th.

Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir. (Anadolu Agency/Getty/Kyodo)

"While other countries are boosting their efforts for gender equality, I think it shows that our efforts are lagging, relatively," Japan's top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told a news conference, noting that the country ranked behind other advanced economies and Asian nations such as China and South Korea.

To achieve the government's goal of raising the ratio of female candidates running in national elections to 35 percent by 2025, Kato said it will work with opposition parties in efforts to improve women's empowerment.

Women accounted for 18 percent of all candidates in Japan's House of Representatives election in 2017 and 28 percent in the House of Councillors election in 2019, according to a Kyodo News survey released in early March.

The WEF report, which tracks progress toward gender equality in the fields of the economy, politics, education and health, noted only 9.9 percent of Japan's parliamentarians were women and 10 percent of ministerial positions were held by females. It also noted the country has never had a female prime minister.

The think tank pointed out that women are employed in just 14.7 percent of senior roles as judged by its economic participation index despite 72 percent of Japanese women being in the labor force.

Supplied photo shows a symposium to discuss gender inequality in the media sector in Tokyo on Feb. 27, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Japan Mass Media Culture Information Workers' Union Conference)(Kyodo)

The share of women working part-time was almost twice that of men and the average Japanese woman's income was 43.7 percent lower than that of a Japanese man, it added.

"The perception that Japan is a nation with a low awareness of human rights and gender equality has been spreading, due partly to Mori's remarks," said Toko Tanaka, a professor at Otsuma Women's University.

She warned the view might have a negative economic impact such as a decrease in foreign investment.

The WEF estimated it would now take some 135 years to fully close the global gender gap as disparities may have widened amid the coronavirus pandemic. The organization said in its 2020 report, published in December 2019 before the public health crisis, the predicted timeframe was 99 years.

The gender gap report has been released around fall and winter by the think tank every year since 2006, but the latest edition was postponed due to the pandemic.

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