Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, long seen as a homogeneous redoubt of elderly men, now wants more women at its key meetings – provided they don’t do the talking.
The party, in power for most of the time since 1955, has proposed allowing five female politicians to join its board meetings as observers in a response to criticism that its board is dominated by men.
Two of the party’s 12-member board are women, while only three of its 25-member general council are women.
The proposal comes after sexist comments from former Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, himself an LDP member and former prime minister, sparked a global outcry and renewed attention on gender disparity in the world’s third-largest economy.
The move would allow more female LDP members to see how decisions were being made, said Toshihiro Nikai, the party’s 82-year-old secretary general.
He said he had heard criticism the party’s elected board was dominated by men.
“It is important to fully understand what kind of discussions are happening,” he told a news conference.
Female observers would not be able to speak during the meetings, but could submit opinions separately to the secretariat office, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported.
Japan is ranked 121st of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index – the worst ranking gap among advanced countries – scoring poorly on women’s economic participation and political empowerment.
Former prime minister Shinzo Abe championed a policy of “Womenomics” to increase women’s participation in the economy, but activists and many ordinary women say more drastic change is still needed in the workplace, and in politics.
The problem was highlighted last week when Mr Mori, the Olympics chief, resigned after saying women spoke too much at meetings and caused them to go one for too long.
This week, a group of female LDP lawmakers asked Mr Nikai to increase the ratio of women in key party posts.
The LDP’s latest move met with scorn on social media and from some opposition politicians.
Also making the rounds on social media in Japan were comments by Kengo Sakurada, head of a powerful Japanese business lobby, who said Japan’s glass ceiling was “partly women’s fault”.