NIIGATA: When anti-nuclear activist Junko Isogai ran for office in Japan’s northern Niigata region, it had an awkward dimension: not just stump speeches and chats with constituents, but entertaining potential backers, reports Reuters.
“I was asked to pour sake, make flattering conversation and act in a way men wouldn’t dislike,” Isogai, 45, a mother of two teenage girls, told Reuters. “It was like being a bar hostess.”Such traditional campaign practices - heavy on face-to-face interaction and personal ties - are among many barriers women face when trying to enter Japan’s male-dominated politics, candidates and experts say.
Other hurdles include a lack of role models, social norms discouraging women from speaking out, and the burden of an intense, full-time job in a society where women are expected to be responsible for housework, child rearing and elder care.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made bringing more women into the workforce a policy pillar. But politics remains male-dominated. Since Abe took office in December 2012, Japan’s global ranking of women in parliament has fallen to 164th from 122nd among 193 countries. His Liberal Democratic Party has a smaller percentage of female lawmakers than its main opposition party.
A July 21 upper-house election will be the first national poll since passage of a gender parity law that set non-binding targets for parties to field equal numbers of male and female candidates. A record 28% of candidates are women.
But only 15% of LDP candidates are women, compared with 45% for its main opposition, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ).
Sakura Uchikoshi, a Tokyo-based lawyer making her first foray into politics in the rural district of Niigata, is among the opposition candidates.Niigata has a tradition of strong female politicians, including outspoken former foreign minister Makiko Tanaka. And it currently has three female opposition MPs. Uchikoshi, who unlike many men in the party, did not rise through the ranks, suffers from an image as an outsider. She was born in Hokkaido and pursued her career in Tokyo.
That’s a stark contrast with her LDP rival Ichiro Tsukada, a Niigata-born incumbent whose father was also an MP.
“My lack of name recognition is the bottleneck,” Uchikoshi told Reuters in an interview before a rally.
“Male candidates have networks and ... the lack of that for rookie female candidates makes it difficult,” she said, adding she was grateful for support from the three incumbent women.