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WEDO Primer 50/50 Campaign
March 2001

The First Step: Getting in the Door
Japan: We Must Dare to Move Forward

Akiko Domoto serves in the Japanese House of Councilors, the upper house of Parliament. A former journalist, she is an Independent who was first elected to parliament 11 years ago. Ms. Domoto is also a WEDO board member.

Japan is considered as an advanced industrialized country, but on women’s issues, we lag far behind other nations. It is still very difficult for Japanese women to get into the decision-making process. In the lower house of Parliament, women make up only five percent, or 25 out of 500 members. The situation is slightly better in the upper house, which has about 40 women or 17.1 percent, due to a proportional representation system. But in the central administration, only two out of 128 bureau chiefs are women, and in local government, only about 6 percent of officials are women. Nearly half of all local assemblies have no women at all.

In 1996, just after Beijing, we found some new opportunities when 40 years of the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) rule ended. A three-party coalition formed a new government. It included my party, Sakigake, which I was leading at the time; the Social Democrats, led by Ms. Takako Doi; and the Liberal democratic Party headed by Mr. Dutelo Hashimoto.

For the first time in Japanese history, it was two women and one man, exceptional given the tiny percentage of women parliamentarians.

We had the key, and it worked. I made sure that when we organized the coalition, we also agreed among the three parties that the Beijing Platform for Action would become part of Japanese legislation. leading Parliament to pass a basic law for gender equality in 1999.

I think we will begin to see change. It is going to be hard to break the Asian tradition that men always take the initiative, but this is the start, and I’m glad I was there to help make this decision. Even though the coalition is now formed differently, it was essential that we had two women leaders in the beginning.

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