The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Japan’s ruling party says women can join key meetings — as silent observers

Japanese Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto surrounded by reporters in Tokyo on Feb. 17. (Meika Fujio/Kyodo News/AP)

When the leaders of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party meet, there are no women at the table. But the male-dominated elected body has a proposal to change that — by allowing five female lawmakers to sit in silence and watch the men work.

Toshihiro Nikai, 82, the party’s secretary general, told reporters Tuesday that the idea was to allow the party’s female members a chance to “look” at the top decision-making process, Reuters reported. They would then be able to submit comments following the meetings.

He did not say if any women had been consulted in devising the plan.

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Japanese opposition politicians and social media users were quick to condemn the idea as part of the problem it would seek to address, not a solution.

Nikai made the proposal in the wake of another high-profile sexism row. Earlier this month, Yoshiro Mori, 83, then the head of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizing committee, resigned over comments he made demeaning women.

“When I see Mori’s comments described as a gaffe, it makes me irate because it is not a gaffe. It’s a verbal expression of national policy,” Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Post following Mori’s resignation.

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“This is an active policy of excluding women from positions that they are qualified to occupy and frankly would do a better job than men,” she added.

Japan has the largest gender gap among advanced economies recorded in the World Economic Forum’s gender parity assessment, ranking 121st out of 153 countries. Men continue to dominate the top spots across politics, sports and in other sectors, with only 5.2 percent of executive roles at Japanese companies held by women as of 2019.

Reuters reported that earlier this week a group of Liberal Democratic Party female members asked Nikai to increase the representation of women in key party posts.

Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe had set a goal of increasing the proportion of women leaders in government ministries and agencies, as well as private firms, by 30 percent by 2020. However, last June the government acknowledged the target was “impossible” and suggested 2030 instead.