Only a Crisis Will Make Room for Women Atop Japan’s Ruling Party, Ex-Minister Says

Nothing short of total upheaval could propel a woman to the top of Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a former Defense Minister said in an interview.

Tomomi Inada’s comments this week came in the wake of an uproar over sexism at the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee this month. Separately, two new studies underscored how far Japan lags much of the world on gender equality.

Only a Crisis Will Make Room for Women Atop Japan’s Ruling Party, Ex-Minister Says

“If the LDP hits a crisis, then women will be able to run,” Inada, 62, said Monday. “At the moment, the party doesn’t want to do anything that would involve extra effort. They want to maintain the status quo. But if they reach the point where they can’t win, I think women will have a chance.”

The LDP will face a fresh test of its appeal in a lower house election that must be held by October. Before that, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will have to seek a new term as ruling party leader in September.

Japan has for years sought to entice more women into the workplace to make up for an aging and shrinking population. But a campaign to have them take 30% of leadership positions in all fields by 2020 has failed to make substantial progress in many sectors, including politics.

A new report issued by the World Bank this week ranked Japan 80th, tied with Vietnam and Colombia, among 190 countries in terms of laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunity -- lower than the United Arab Emirates and down from 74th place last year. A separate report released by Grant Thornton on Monday found that women made up 15% of senior leaders in mid-market companies in Japan, compared with 48% in the Philippines.

Only one woman has ever thrown her hat into the ring for leadership of the LDP, which has been in power for all but about four of the last 66 years. In 2008, when the party was on the verge of losing power to the then-ascendant Democratic Party of Japan, Yuriko Koike, now the governor of Tokyo, launched a bid for the premiership and lost in a landslide.

Other women, including former Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda, have expressed interest in running for LDP leadership, but they’ve never marshaled the factional backing that’s critical to success. Inada said she would like to take on the challenge, but that the environment wasn’t in place for her to step forward now.

“In the end, the leadership election isn’t decided in the open, but behind closed doors,” Inada said. “If that’s the way they make their choice, then women don’t get much of a chance.”

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