Women in Japanese Politics:
Part Seven - Fewer Women Elected in November 2003 Lower House Election
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
In the November 2003 Lower House election a total of 34 women were elected to office, one less than in the previous June 2000 poll. Although the drop seems insignificant, in actuality it means that the painfully slow advance of women in national politics has for now ground to a halt. The result also means that in terms of female parliamentary representation, Japan will retain its near rock-bottom global ranking. On a more positive note, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan now boasts the largest number of female lawmakers in the new intake. This increased presence in Japan's second largest party will hopefully strengthen the voice of women in the Lower House.
In the newly elected 480-seat lower chamber, female lawmakers will make up 7.1% of the total (see table below). International comparisons help put this meagre figure in better perspective. The Inter-Parliamentary Union provides global data and league tables on female representation in lower house chambers. Adding the November 2003 election result to the latest IPU data gives Japan a global position of 100th, ranking it alongside Kenya.
As a developing country, Kenya might claim that it is striving towards improving its level of female political representation. As an industrially advanced nation, Japan's dreadful rating seems almost impossible to defend. More alarming, since there will probably not be another Lower House election for the next three to four years, Japan's lack of progress in 2003 will almost certainly consign it to the bottom end of the international league table for the next few years.
The 43rd Lower House election has also changed the gender dynamics between the political parties. With 9 representatives in the outgoing parliament, the Social Democratic Party had the highest number of women in the chamber and was viewed as the most gender-friendly party. However, due to the SDP's very poor showing in the polls (see table below), the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan now has the largest concentration of female lawmakers. The DPJ fielded a total of 29 female candidates of whom 15 were successful elected. By Japanese standards, such a relatively high number of women in one party should enable them to focus more on gender-related issues as well as to start to build up female political networks similar to those established by Japan's four pioneering female governors.
The 2003 election result clearly demonstrates that Japan's male-dominated political establishment has little or no interest in addressing the serious gender-imbalance in national politics. While practically every other industrially advanced democracy has made efforts to increase female representation in national parliaments, Japan has done virtually nothing. In the coming years, if the newly elected female lawmakers want to increase their representation, they will need to work very closely together. Regrettably, it appears unlikely that their male counterparts will offer them much genuine assistance.
Percentage of Women Elected in the November 2003 Lower House Election
|Political Party||Number of Male and Female Lawmakers||Percentage of Female Lawmakers|
|Liberal Democratic Party||228 males to 9 females||4%|
|Democratic Party Japan||162 males to 15 females||8.5%|
|Komei-to||27 males to 4 females||13%
|Communist Party Japan||7 males to 2 females||28.6%|
|Social Democratic Party||3 males to 3 females||50%|
|New Conservative Party||4 males to 0 females||0|
|Independents||12 males to 1 female||8.3%|
Other Articles in Women in Japanese Politics Series can be found here.
Two-Party System Finally Emerges in Japan
Japan's 1993 Regime Change in Retrospect
Youth Trends in Japan
Gender Equality in Japanese Education
Women Advancing in Japanese Society