Ousted Japanese Minister ‘Worried’ as Female Politicians Dwindle

(Bloomberg) -- A female cabinet minister replaced during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet reshuffle said she was worried about the shrinking number of women appointed to the most senior positions in Japanese politics.

Seiko Noda was this week removed from her position as internal affairs minister and replaced by a man, Masatoshi Ishida. Only one woman, regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama, was among the 19 ministers appointed to the new cabinet -- down from just two female members before the reorganization.

Ousted Japanese Minister ‘Worried’ as Female Politicians Dwindle

Abe has championed the cause of women’s promotion since he returned to the premiership in 2012, seeking ways to bolster Japan’s labor force as it battles an aging population and low birth rate. By 2014 he had five women in his cabinet, but the numbers dwindled as scandals forced some to step down.

Abe was re-elected as the head of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party last month, clearing the way for him to become Japan’s longest serving premier.

“When the Abe administration came back, promoting women was the most important policy,” Noda said on Tuesday at her farewell press conference, according to Japan’s Sankei newspaper. “I had great hopes that this would change the LDP. I’m extremely worried about the number of female ministers continuing to fall.”

Abe’s LDP is short on female representation at all levels -- only 22 of the 283 party lawmakers in the lower house are women. Earlier this year, Noda launched a political school in her constituency in Gifu, central Japan, to help women interested in entering politics.

Noda, who was first voted into parliament in 1993, sought to run against Abe in last month’s election for leadership of the LDP. But she failed to gather necessary support from 20 lawmakers.

“Compared with other countries, I have to admit that the proportion of women in the cabinet is low,” Abe told reporters on Tuesday. “But Japan has just started as a society where women can be active, and from now on I think women who can enter the cabinet will develop at a faster rate.”

He acknowledged that Katayama was the only woman joining the cabinet. “So I am hoping she will do the work of two or three people,” he said.

Controversy over sexism has hit other professions in Japan this year, including a Tokyo medical college’s August admission that it had deliberately excluded female applicants in favor of less qualified men -- infuriating many Japanese women. A government survey of medical schools later indicated that the problem was widespread.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.