Research at Sophia

Making Japan a Country Where Women Can Play Active Roles in Politics – Upsurge in Security Debate Provides a Springboard –

Mari Miura
(Professor, Faculty of Law)

Japan Falls Behind

Mari Miura Professor, Faculty of Law

Early this year Taiwan gained its first woman leader when Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidential election (she takes office in May). The Republic of Korea is led by President Park Geun-hye, and Hilary Clinton is a strong contender for the US presidential election this fall. Japan is surrounded by women leaders who are driving their countries forward, yet if we look at the Japanese Diet we see that just 9.5 percent of members of the House of Representatives are women, less than half the global average of 22 percent. In a ranking of the proportion of women in the lower houses of 190 countries, Japan was listed 154th as of December 2015.

To date 140 countries have introduced quota systems for national elections, earmarking a certain number of candidacies or seats for women or allocating them between men and women. The concept of achieving parity, whereby the balance of men and women in key decision-making forums reflects that of the population as a whole, is also becoming widespread. Clearly Japan will be left behind if it does not reform its political systems.

A nonpartisan caucus of Diet members addressing this issue has finally compiled the framework of a bill to promote gender equality in the political sphere and is preparing to submit it. I have been involved in this process as an adviser to the working team on the bill, which includes provisions aimed at political parties fielding equal numbers of male and female candidates.

The bill sets out basic principles that are not legally enforceable, and the responses of each political party can be expected to differ according to their circumstances, but there is no doubt that it will be a major step forward if it is passed. Above all, it will mobilize public opinion behind accelerating political parties' voluntary efforts.

Needless to say, the fact that the composition of the Diet is very different from that of the general population contravenes democratic principles of fairness. Moreover, there are many bills where the perspectives of female Diet members would enhance the quality of policy measures. Policies to address the falling birthrate, which is a pressing issue for Japan, are a good example, given that achieving the government's target birthrate of 1.8 will require the creation of appropriate and effective mechanisms that incorporate subtle considerations rather than imposing pressure on women to give birth.

The figures cited above show that the awareness of Japan's politicians is far behind the times on such points.

Women Awaken

Mari Miura Professor, Faculty of Law

In the meantime, women have been remarkably active in politics at the civil society level. One of the key features of the movement opposing last year's security bill was the high proportion of women taking part.

In Japan the term "3/11 moms" refers to women who saw the government's response to the nuclear accident in the wake of the earthquake on March 11, 2011 and realized that they could only safeguard their children if they gathered information themselves and made their own decisions. This phenomenon opened many women's eyes to politics, especially mothers. Since then, they have proactively continued to take the lead in action and network-building aimed at opposing the restart of nuclear power generation. When the security bill issue arose, they responded with the same sense of urgency.

I feel that women's assertions stem more from physicality than those of men. Rather than dealing with abstract concepts of life and peace, women's assertions are based on sensations of physical and mental pain they have experienced in the course of being hurt, witnessing death, hurting others, and seeing lives lost. Because of this, they have a stronger, sharper imagination of what war is like. I think this is an important element of their distinctive perspectives on politics, which I mentioned above.

Nevertheless, the security bill was passed. Since then women have woken up and started studying furiously.

Ultimately the views of the majority determine policy, so women have to send plenty of their own representatives to the Diet. They are learning about electoral mechanisms and circumstances in their own voting districts, and thinking about who to vote for, how to find their own candidates if there is no one they want to vote for, and how to support such candidates.

In fact, political parties that are halfhearted about introducing quota systems often use the excuse that suitable female candidates are lacking. By contrast, the Republic of Korea has forged ahead of Japan and set an example for introduction of quotas: women's groups identified their own female candidates and spurred on political parties by putting forward a list of more than 100 names.

I want to support the "3/11 moms" and the "security bill moms" in their efforts to learn from such overseas experience so they can link their own actions to increasing the number of female Diet members and reforming national politics.

Reconsidering the Security Treaty and Constitution

Mari Miura Professor, Faculty of Law

The issues surrounding the security bill were also constitutional issues. There are a variety of views on whether Article 9 of the Constitution should be preserved or revised in order to maintain security and peace for Japan. However, even if the current situation no longer meets the needs of the times, methods that alter the interpretation of the Constitution by cabinet decision without following constitutional reform procedures, and forcibly pass unconstitutional laws, are a denial of constitutionalism. As opposition to laws relating to the Security Treaty has spread, people have begun to think more carefully about constitutionalism. Many people have recalled that the Constitution was not originally just about Article 9; its most important roles were to control the power of the State and safeguard individual dignity.

The emergence of such a large popular movement last summer was a landmark event for Japanese society. We are now in a crucial period for reexamining the significance of that movement and carrying its momentum forward into the future.

If I may include a little promotional message, the Sophia Community College open course on security legislation and the Constitution, which runs over 11 sessions beginning in April, should provide a good forum for considering such issues. In addition to Sophia University teaching staff from disciplines including politics, philosophy, and religious studies, we have invited outside experts from a range of fields, including sociologist Chizuko Ueno, constitutional scholar Miho Aoi, novelist Keiichiro Hirano, and journalist Shigenori Kanehira, to engage in multifaceted analysis and commentary on the issues. With reference to my book Watashitachi no koe o gikai e: daihyosei minshushugi no saisei (Making Our Voices Heard: The Revival of Representative Democracy), which was published last year, I will speak about the need to ensure diversity in politics and competition among political parties, as well as the nature of citizens' participation in politics. The sessions are of course open to all, not just women, and we look forward to seeing a large number of participants.

In an initiative characteristic of Sophia University, this year I have started teaching English-language lectures on Japanese politics for Japanese students. In line with my hopes that participants would engage in an in-depth reexamination of their own country's politics from broad and global perspectives, the students continue to demonstrate remarkable growth. Perhaps because the course also hones language skills, most of the students are women, and they are all actively engaging with politics and society in their own ways. My wish is that they will become a powerful force in advancing the kind of reforms I have mentioned here.

Mari Miura Professor, Faculty of Law
Mari Miura
Professor, Faculty of Law

Specializes in comparative welfare state theory, contemporary Japanese politics, and gender and politics. Her publications include Watashitachi no koe o gikai e: daihyosei minshushugi no saisei (Making Our Voices Heard: The Revival of Representative Democracy), Iwanami Shoten; Welfare through Work: Conservative Ideas, Partisan Dynamics, and Social Protection in Japan , Cornell University Press; and Jenda kuota: sekai no josei giin wa naze fueta no ka (Gender Quotas in Comparative Perspectives: Understanding the Increase in Women Representatives), ed., Akashi Shoten.

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