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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #32: April 10, 2003

Women in Japanese Politics: Part Two -
More Women Candidates Fight April 2003 Local Elections

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.

By international standards, Japan has a very poor rate of female participation in national politics with women currently representing just 7.1% of lawmakers in the Japanese Lower House. Representation at the various levels of local government is just as bad, but in recent years there have been some signs that the situation is very gradually improving. In February 2000, Fusae Ota became Japan's very first female governor and in November 2002, Aya Shirai became Japan's youngest ever woman mayor. Local political trends are often a few years ahead of national ones. In the forthcoming April 2003 unified local elections, there are a record number of female candidates standing. With women comprising almost 10% of contenders, hopefully more of them will be voted into office than ever before.

The April 2003 unified local elections are a massive nationwide poll which will take place in two stages on the 13 and 27 April. There are 2,634 elections covering the full spectrum of regional and local positions ranging from gubernatorial, mayoral and assembly seats. Assembly elections are being held in every prefecture except Tokyo, Ibaraki and Okinawa.

Of the 3,846 declared candidates in prefectural races, a record 383 are women. This represents 9.96% of the total field and is an improvement the previous 1999 election figure of 323 females or 8% of candidates. At least 211 women are contesting 831 seats in the 12 city assembly elections, which include Sapporo, Yokohama and Kyoto.

In some regions women candidates are putting up a particularly strong challenge. In Kanagawa Prefecture an unprecedented 25% of candidates are women. This means there will be a record 106 female contenders running in races within the prefecture. A female candidate is also a strong contender in the race for Tokyo governor. Social critic and Tokyo Kasei University professor Keiko Higuchi is putting up an impressive challenge to incumbent Shintaro Ishihara. However, opinion polls indicate that Governor Ishihara is likely to be re-elected.

In these elections, women candidates are utilizing a wide variety of electoral techniques, mobilizing various citizens' organizations, women's rights groups and volunteers to help their campaigns. There is also extensive use of the internet to try to encourage female voters to back women candidates.

The 15.7% rise in the number of female candidates running in 2003 reflects a broader social trend of greater equality for women. Nevertheless, the increase is still dwarfed when one considers that 90% of those running for office are men. Even with increased numbers of women standing, it will be a long time before Japanese local government catches up with the levels of female political participation recorded in other industrially advanced countries.

Articles in the Women in Japanese Politics Series

Women in Japanese Politics: Part One - Too Few Women in Japanese Politics
Social Trends: Series #31, GLOCOM Platform, 4 April2003

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