Japan’s ruling party invites women to meetings – but won’t let them speak

It was a move designed to show that Japan’s ruling party was committed to gender equality after the sexism row that forced one of its former prime ministers, Yoshiro Mori, to resign as head of Tokyo’s Olympic organising committee.

The time had come to give female members of the Liberal Democratic party (LDP) more prominence at key meetings, the party’s secretary general, Toshihiro Nikai, said this week, days after Mori had stepped down following his claim that meetings attended by “talkative women” tended to “drag on”.

But Nikai’s attempt to address the yawning gender gap in his party quickly unravelled when it became clear that the small groups of women attending the meetings were expected to be seen but not heard.

The LDP, which has governed Japan almost unchallenged since 1955, had proposed allowing groups of about five women to attend meetings of its 12-member board, 10 of whom are men, on condition they remained silent observers.

The proposal was ridiculed on social media and by opposition MPs. “Male chauvinism and discrimination against women is always part of the LDP,” a Twitter user wrote.

Nikai, a powerful factional leader who backed Yoshihide Suga to become prime minister last autumn, defended the proposal, under which the female observers would be allowed to send their views to the board’s secretariat in lieu of speaking. “It is important to fully understand what kind of discussions are happening,” Nikai, 82, told reporters. “Taking a look – that’s what it’s about.”

Nikai reportedly made the proposal a day after Tomomi Inada, a former defence minister who campaigns to raise the status of female MPs, suggested women be permitted to attend important party meetings. Last year, Inada called Japan a “democracy without women” after Suga appointed just two women to his cabinet.

“Women make up half of Japan’s population and 40% of the LDP grassroots membership,” she said. “If women do not have a place to discuss policies they want enacted, Japan’s democracy cannot help but be biased.”

Japan’s gender problem is reflected in the composition of its lower house of parliament, where just 9.9% of MPs are women, well below the international average of 25.1%, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the global organisation of national parliaments. In addition, Japan’s global ranking on gender parity placed it 121st out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum 2020 report, 11 places down on the previous year and the largest gap among advanced economies.