Meanwhile, more media attention was paid to a story at the beginning of the week that the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly had been the scene of some blatant sexual harassment directed at Shiomura Ayaka (35) of the Your Party. During a debate on government subsidies for women in order to increase their workforce participation on June 18, Shiomura said that the average age of women having their first child in the Tokyo area was 32, which was older than the OECD average, while at the same time women were undergoing fertility treatment at considerable expense to themselves and that support should be made available from the government. Some male members of the LDP then decided that this would be an opportune moment to shout out “You are the one who should get married as soon as possible”, along with “Can’t you even bear a child?” and some alleged remarks concerning her possible relationship with Your Party member Mitani Hidehiro.
Never mind the fact that these comments belittled Shiomura in front of the Assembly by questioning both her marital status and her fertility, those who shouted out such comments then proceeded to behave in a most cowardly way by not owning up to their heckling. It wasn’t until Monday, when the story had gained a life of its own and resulted in a petition starting on Change.org to get those politicians responsible to resign, that 51 year old LDP member Suzuki Akihiro came forward to take responsibility for questioning Ms Shiomura’s unmarried status. In what stands as a fairly pathetic excuse for his behaviour, Suzuki said… “Lightheartedly, I hoped women will get married soon because I thought that might alleviate the problems we face in Japan of low birth rates and late marriage,” and claimed that he did not know that his comment(s) were insulting.
Such was the damage caused that LDP Party Secretary Ishiba Shigeru made a remark of his own on Sunday, saying that “Whoever made the sexually harassing remarks should admit and apologize. If it’s someone from my party, we must apologize as a party.” (J) Whether this actually occurs is debatable, given that Suzuki is the only one who has come forward over the incident as a sort of ‘sacrificial victim’ to the media to try and take some heat out of the story. This has of course made Suzuki a target for retaliation, as occurred on Monday evening when his electoral office was bombarded with raw eggs (J). So far Suzuki has not been called upon to resign and has given no indication that he will.
In a study into female participation in politics, the Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office published a graph showing that of the countries surveyed, the participation of women in politics in Japan in 2002 was at 7.3%, only marginally higher than South Korea (and far below Sweden with a participatory rate of 45.3%). According to a Huffington Post Japan article from last year, statistics released at the Davos World Economic Forum on gender equality stated that of the 136 countries surveyed, Japan ranked 105th in terms of its equality between the sexes (although Japan once again outdid South Korea, which ranked 111th. The score itself was tied to the lack of female representation in politics) (J).
Clearly Japan has a deficit in female politicians, which itself accounts for the relative laxity concerning gender issues in Japan itself and the prevalence of attitudes towards women in politics that should have died out long ago. If PM Abe truly does believe that the role of women in society is in need of support then this is one place that the LDP/New Komeito could start looking at in earnest, for without adequate representation those ambitions of PM Abe for a greater female involvement in society will remain just that – ambitions.