With Prime Minister Fumio Kishida appointing a record-tying five women in Wednesday's Cabinet reshuffle, analysts have expressed hope that the move will lead to a substantial increase in the number of women lawmakers in male-dominated Japanese politics.

Before the reshuffle of the Cabinet and the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Japan ranked 138th out of 146 countries in terms of gender equality in politics in a World Economic Forum survey.

The low ranking by the Swiss-based WEF can be attributed to the fact that in Kishida's previous Cabinet, there were only two female members. Additionally, women constitute just 10 percent of the 465 members in the more influential lower chamber of parliament, the House of Representatives.


The Cabinet and LDP leadership reshuffle garnered attention as the Kishida government set a goal in June for Japanese listed companies to achieve a 30 percent ratio of female executives by 2030 as part of their initiatives to promote diversity and women's empowerment.

If the 30 percent target for the private sector is applied to the new Cabinet, Kishida would have had to appoint six women -- a figure he almost reached.


The first Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, launched in April 2001, and the second Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, when reshuffled in September 2014, each had five women, a record number that Kishida's revamped Cabinet matches.

"The number of female ministers in the new Cabinet was higher than expected. At issue is whether Mr. Kishida will exert a strong leadership in advancing women's political empowerment to better reflect increasingly diverse views in Japan," said Yoshikuni Ono, a professor of political science at Waseda University.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (C, front row) is pictured at the premier's office in Tokyo on Sept. 13, 2023, with members of his reshuffled Cabinet, including a record-tying five female ministers. (Kyodo) 

"The LDP -- made up of mostly male lawmakers and with a relatively large number of its new candidates hailing from political families -- should step up efforts to boost women's representation in the Diet to expand a pool of potential female Cabinet members, including a prime minister," Ono said in an interview.

He was referring to the party's goal of raising the number of female LDP members in the lower house and the House of Councillors, Japan's upper house, to 30 percent from the current 12 percent in 10 years.

Opposition parties have higher rates of female members in the Diet, with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan at 22 percent and the Japan Innovation Party at 15 percent.

Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University, said that in addition to the record-tying number of female Cabinet ministers, the government and political parties should take more concrete measures to achieve gender equality.

"I would hope that female lawmakers, such as Ms. Yoko Kamikawa, a new foreign minister, and Ms. Yuko Obuchi, a new chairperson of the LDP Election Strategy Committee, will encourage and assist other women who would like to play a major role in politics," Nakano said in a separate interview.

"The key is whether the five female ministers and Ms. Obuchi can take the lead in building a gender-equal society while making full use of their positions," he said.

Yamagata Gov. Mieko Yoshimura -- one of only two female governors in the country's 47 prefectures alongside Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike -- has advocated setting a quota for the number of seats held by women in the Diet and local assemblies in a bid to address the gender gap in Japanese politics.

Nakano proposed introducing a quota system for female election candidates, for example, by equaling the number of male and female candidates in the proportional representation portion for lower and upper house elections.

The scholar also suggested that the government allocate funding for political parties based on the rate of female lawmakers in each party rather than the total number of lawmakers each party has.

Ono said Japan can take lessons from South Korea, a country that has lifted the ratio of female members in the National Assembly to 19 percent from about 6 percent in 2000 after introducing a quota in the proportional representation segment for parliamentary elections.

"South Korea apparently uses the proportional representation system as a means to recruit more women in national politics," he said. "Once getting seats in parliament and having experiences as lawmakers, they would have the know-how and build confidence before running for seats in more challenging single-seat districts."

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