Japan should pursue women's involvement in conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts as a key foreign policy to further contribute to global peace, Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa said in a recent interview while acknowledging the "many challenges" her own nation faces in gender equality issues.

Kamikawa, 71, who became Japan's first female foreign minister in around two decades when she took the post in September last year, also expressed her resolve to become a "role model for women after her" as she carries out her diplomatic duties.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa speaks during an interview at the ministry in Tokyo on Feb. 29, 2024. (Kyodo)

The interview with Kyodo News took place ahead of International Women's Day as Japan continues to lag in gender equality, particularly in the political and economic spheres. Kamikawa herself has recently been a target of sexist remarks by former Prime Minister Taro Aso, who commented on her appearance as that of an "old lady."

"I feel there are many challenges (in advancing female participation in politics in Japan), given that we have hardly seen a change in gender role awareness and in the basis of our social structure," she said.

Kamikawa emphasized that women in leadership positions in areas of conflict prevention and reconstruction work are crucial for sustainable peacebuilding, touching on a U.N.-promoted concept that underscores women's equal and meaningful participation in peace and security, known as "Women, Peace and Security," or WPS.

"I am certain that if we advance 'Women, Peace and Security' as a key diplomatic policy for Japan, the country will be able to contribute to a peaceful international community more than ever," she said.

She also called for urgent attention to protect and provide relief for women and children who are in vulnerable conditions amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine and conflicts in the Middle East.

Regarding support for Ukraine, Japan plans to focus on providing shelters and protection for victims of sexual assault, alongside educational assistance for children, among other issues, the minister said.

"From the initial stages of humanitarian aid through the longer-term goals of rebuilding people's lives, we will take the WPS approach at every stage and promote concrete measures," she said.

When asked about her experience with gender issues on the diplomatic stage, Kamikawa recalled a Group of Seven meeting she attended last year in New York. There, she noted that the eight foreign ministers, including from the European Union, were evenly split between men and women, a development that members welcomed.

"The female foreign ministers are all very articulate and have rich personalities," she said. "I also see many women in diplomatic delegations. I strongly feel the need for more active participation of women."

She also vowed to foster a better working environment for women and men in Japan's Foreign Ministry and diplomatic missions abroad to help them balance work and family life.

"I feel communication tools with beefed up information security is essential to promote opportunities to work from home," she said.

Kamikawa, a seventh-term House of Representatives member, has served as justice minister and gender equality minister in the past.

After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Kamikawa joined a Japanese think tank and later earned a master's degree in public administration at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. She also worked as a policymaking staffer for a U.S. senator.

She has been advocating WPS as her life's work before and during her tenure as foreign minister.

In the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report in 2023, Japan ranked 125th out of 146 countries, its worst recorded result and the lowest in the East Asia and Pacific region. Japan also ranked the lowest among G7 members.

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