Japan's Non-Quota Adoption and the Gender Parity Law: Resistance to Women's Political Leadership in Japan

  • Date: –16:30
  • Location: Room 6229, Gamla torget 6, Uppsala
  • Lecturer: Kayo Onishi, Post-doctoral research fellow at the Department Alte Welt und Asiatische Kulturen, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
  • Organiser: The Department of Government and Uppsala Forum, both at Uppsala University
  • Contact person: Malin Holm
  • Föreläsning

Welcome to this Uppsala Forum guest lecture that will address the topic of women’s political leadership in Japan, the resistance to electoral quotas and the adoption of the non-binding gender parity law. The lecture is given by Uppsala Forum visiting fellow Kayo Onishi, Post-doctoral research fellow at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg.

Why do some countries fail to adopt electoral gender quotas to address women’s underrepresentation while others succeed even after a long struggle? Electoral gender quotas have become a part of the contemporary political landscape, not only in countries where the value of gender equality has long been cherished, such as women-friendly Nordic countries, but also in countries where a patriarchal culture persists, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Algeria or post-conflict regimes.

While Japan ranked 163rd among 193 countries in the representation of women in national parliaments in 2017 according to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union, it has never witnessed the legalization of any kind of electoral gender quotas in the past. Although feminist legislators and female bureaucrats advocated for gender quotas as early as 2012, gender quota adoption still remains controversial in Japan. Instead of a quota system, in May of 2018, the Japanese Diet passed the Law to Promote Joint Participation by Men and Women in the Political Field, which aims to increase the number of female legislators in Japan. The law, also known as the Candidate Gender Equity Law or Gender Parity Law, is nonetheless not legally binding and only symbolic, stipulating no punitive clause.

Motivated by the observation that Japan, up to date, has never legalized gender quotas, and that the Japanese Diet instead ended up passing the non-legally binding law in 2018, this study aims to answer why Japan has failed to adopt electoral quotas. The study argues that Japan’s long struggle to adopt gender quotas can be explained by the absence of male elites’ strategy in the long-lasting dominant party, LDP, which often uses gender equality policy as a measure for gender equality without necessarily changing the existing gender imbalance. This is bolstered by elite conservative females in the LDP who strongly oppose gender quotas.

Kayo Onishi earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University Bloomington in 2017, with a doctoral dissertation entitled "Electoral Gender Quotas and Women’s Representation in Developing Countries—When and How Do Quotas Work?" Her dissertation focuses on the impact of electoral gender quotas on women’s substantive representation in developing countries. She also earned her Ph.D. in Law from the University of Tokyo and she has published articles on Reproductive Health/Rights and maternal health policy in Japan. Her current research interests include violence against women in politics with a specific focus on Japan and Japan’s non-quota adoption. She is the recipient of US-Japan Fulbright Graduate Study Scholarship and the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop fellowship.