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Japan has so few women politicians that when even one is gaffe-prone, it's damaging – CNN

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“Women can tell as many lies as they want,” Sugita was reported to have said at a ruling party parliamentary meeting on 2021 budgets to promote gender equality. Sugita apologized for her remarks earlier this month, saying she hadn’t meant them for female sexual assault survivors or to imply that only women lie.
This wasn’t the first time the lawmaker and member of the ruling LDP party’s Women Activity Promotion Taskforce has alienated parts of the electorate with her conservative views.
Sugita has previously denied the existence of “comfort women” — a wartime euphemism for women and girls, some who volunteered and others who provided sexual services for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.
In 2018, she came under fire for saying that the government should not support same-sex couples because they cannot bear offspring and therefore were not “productive,” in an article published in conservative magazine Shincho 45.
She has also victim-blamed Shiori Ito, a journalist and icon of Japan’s #MeToo movement, by stating her alleged rape was due to “clear errors on her part as a woman,” according to local media reports.
Experts say Sugita’s recent apology missed the mark, and her comments are damaging — especially in a country with so few female politicians.

Toeing the boy’s club line

Globally, politics remains one of the most male-dominated spheres in society. Only 25% of all national parliamentarians were women as of October 2020, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of national parliaments.
In Japan, only 46 of 465 lower house lawmakers are women — that’s fewer than 10%, compared to a 25% global average and 20% average in Asia, as of October.
Tomomi Inada, a former defense minister who served in former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government before she resigned in 2017, said being part of a minority comes with its stereotypes.
“We are often judged to be emotional and are treated with skepticism when we voice our opinion strongly. That’s because we are such extreme minority in Japanese politics,” says Inada.
To survive, some women in Japanese politics feel the pressure to comply with their male counterparts’ views to fit in, according to Chizuko Ueno, a sociologist and the chief director of the Women’s Action Network. “They can become more hawkish than their male colleagues,” she adds.
Inada acknowledges feeling pressure to conform to the male majority’s viewpoint while in government, but says it is important for women not to give in to this.
Japan's member of the House of Representatives Mio Sugita attends at the opening of the extraordinary Diet session in Tokyo, Japan on October 24, 2018.
However, Sugita’s latest actions encourage the normalization of casually misogynistic views, says Kukhee Choo, a Japan-based media scholar.
“Countless feminists paved the way for Sugita, but she is using her position of power to dismantle the privilege they built for her. It’s like she turned against that very fight,” says Choo.
That view was echoed by the Flower Demo, a human rights group organizing a movement against sex crimes. It issued a statement in response to Sugita’s remarks, saying “parliamentarians who ought to address gender inequality must not be allowed to set the wrong example by issuing sexually discriminatory remarks and revealing their ignorance of the very real problem of sexual violence.”

Shifting attitudes

In the past, women in Japan who defied expectations and pushed the needle on gender equality have faced backlash.
For instance, in 2017, Yuka Ogata, a local Japanese politician, was confronted by lawmakers for trying to bring her baby to a council session. One councilman shouted at her while others told her that she couldn’t stay and had to leave the room immediately. Ogata had wanted to show how difficult it is for women to find a work-life balance.
However, in recent years, campaigns such as #MeToo and #KuToo — which saw women petition against wearing high heels to work — have put Japan’s gender inequality and human rights issues in the spotlight.
“All generations in Japan have access to the internet, and younger people, in particular, have mobilized on social media to express their opinions and force politicians to change their stance on topics,” says Choo.
Increasingly, people in Japan are no longer willing to turn a blind eye to discriminatory remarks made by politicians, adds Ueno, the sociologist.
“Society is changing and the media’s high attention on Sugita’s remark is proof of such change. Not long ago, remarks like hers were so commonplace they were overlooked but now it’s getting a headline,” says Ueno.

Toothless reforms

Inada says people in Japan think a strong woman will climb the political ladder alone, but that’s a myth. “We will never be able to change the system if we stick to the idea,” she says.
Today, for instance, 127 countries use electoral gender quotas to increase women’s representation in politics, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
Inada has backed implementing enforced electoral quotas, arguing that increasing female participation raises responsiveness to policies concerning women, and is also beneficial to men.
“(Japan is) probably 20 to 30 years behind many other countries, but now is the time for female politicians to take action,” says Inada.
Some steps have been made towards change. In 2018, a law was passed to encourage political parties to set targets for gender parity.
However, as with an 1985 equal employment law which aimed to promote gender equality in private companies, there are no legal requirements or penalties for parties that fail to comply, according to Hiroko Goto, a gender equality expert at Chiba University.
As a result, Japan’s ruling LDP has a poor record of appointing women. In 2018, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed just one woman, Satsuki Katayama, to his new cabinet — claiming she could do the work of “two or three” women.
The situation didn’t get much better in 2020.
When Yoshihide Suga took over office in September, he appointed only two women to his 21-strong team, to the chagrin of many, including the former defense minister Inada. She declared shortly afterward that Japan was a “democracy without women.”
Inada sought to join Japan’s LDP leadership race after Abe resigned in August due to poor health. However, neither she nor Seiko Noda, a former internal affairs minister, secured the 20 nominations needed from other LDP lawmakers to run as a candidate.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was the LDP’s first and only female candidate — and that was in the 2008 presidential election.

Strength in numbers

Despite the barriers, more women are applying for political office than ever before.
Last year, of 370 candidates seeking one of the 124 seats being contested in the Upper House of Councilors, 104 — or almost 30% — were women, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Of those, 28 women were elected — matching a previous high from 2016, according to NHK.
Ueno, the sociologist, says while these women can serve as role models in Japan, many of them are members of smaller, left-wing parties such as the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), which have a less influential presence in the Japanese parliament. Also, Japan’s upper house is the less powerful of the parliament’s two houses — for instance, laws are generally passed by the lower house before being sent to the upper house for approval. The lower house can overrule the decisions of the upper house with a majority vote on significant national issues, such as the selection of the prime minister and budgets.
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For members of the Flower Demo, who say Sugita’s remarks amounted to a “second rape” for sexual assault survivors, the fight continues. On October 13, the group brought a petition with over 136,000 signatures, demanding Sugita’s resignation, to the LDP’s headquarters in Tokyo. The LDP refused to accept it, according to Minori Kitahara, a Flower Demo member who launched the petition.
The LDP Secretary General’s office said they did not accept the petition of the Flower Demo as it is not usual practice for them to do so.
“(Sugita) has always made remarks like that and the ruling LDP party has forgiven her. But as the Japanese #MeToo is gaining momentum, the LDP can’t ignore this,” says Kitahara.
“Japan is such a male dominated society, we really want the few female politicians to be feminists. We also need (male politicians) to be better allies to women, and understand that the gender issue is important.”

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante releases graphic novel detailing political journey – EverythingGP

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“For me the graphic novel format was always what I wanted,” she said in a recent interview at her publisher’s offices.

“I think it’s accessible, it can be fun, and I love graphic novels myself.”

The book is based on Plante’s own sketches and anecdotes she began jotting down in 2013, during her first run for a seat on city council. Four years later, she became the first woman elected mayor of Montreal after her surprise defeat of experienced incumbent Denis Coderre.

While the writing and drawings were initially a form of self-care to help her “stay balanced,” she said she eventually came to see that her story might inspire others, especially young girls.

“I wanted to show, and maybe tell, people it’s OK not to have all the keys and codes to do something you think would be a good thing to do or you believe in,” she said.

“Just go for it.”

She began working with Cote-Lacroix on evenings and weekends, taking about two years to finalize the story and illustrations.

Plante said that, much like her character in the book, she had been looking for a new challenge before her entry into politics. Then she received a phone call from left-wing municipal party Projet Montreal, which was looking to diversify its slate of candidates.

In the book, Plante doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced by women who put themselves in the public eye. At one point, one of her character’s posters is defaced by sexist graffiti. In another, her character’s husband gets effusive praise for helping to care for the couple’s children — something the book points out is a given for female political spouses. 

While the book “won’t change sexism,” Plante said she hopes it will help highlight the double standards women face.

Three years into her mandate, Plante has had a bumpy year, marked by a global pandemic that has devastated the city’s economy and criticism over her administration’s failure to implement its big visions for affordable housing and transportation. She has also faced anger over what some have described as an anti-car agenda, which includes building bike lanes, eliminating parking spots and temporarily closing some streets to vehicle traffic to create “sanitary corridors.” 

At times, that criticism has escalated to the level of death threats.

While some criticism is to be expected, Plante attributes much of the public anger directed her way to the anxiety wrought by the pandemic.

“Not to minimize their actions of being very aggressive, violent or doing death threats, but I like to hope in the future, when people are less stressed and in a better position, things will calm down,” she said.

She also faced criticism earlier this year over her novel itself, with some high-profile commentators questioning her decision to “draw cartoons” as the city was embroiled in the COVID-19 crisis.

Plante dismissed this as unfounded, especially since she says the writing process wrapped up in late 2019.

“People were just kind of trashing the book (without) even reading it, which I thought was sad, because it wasn’t about the content, it was about criticizing the author,” she said. However, she did push back the book’s publication for a few months when the pandemic’s second wave began.

Plante said she would still recommend politics to young people who want to make a difference, even as she acknowledges it’s a “tough” career that comes with unusual levels of public exposure. 

“But hopefully people see in the book, the love that you get from your volunteers, it’s a community, it’s people working together,” she said.

“It’s worth it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Politics Briefing: Murray Sinclair to resign from Senate – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Senator Murray Sinclair says he’s ready to retire.

Mr. Sinclair announced this afternoon that he will step down from his position representing Manitoba in the Red Chamber in January, when he turns 70.

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Mr. Sinclair is one of Canada’s most respected jurists, the second Indigenous judge in Canadian history and the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which delivered its landmark report in 2015 that included 94 calls for action to the federal government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has committed to meet all 94 calls, appointed Mr. Sinclair to the Senate in 2016.

Mr. Sinclair told The Globe he still hopes to be a voice on the national stage, even if he is leaving Parliament Hill.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

Mr. Trudeau says that even if Canada will not be among the first country to receive vaccines against COVID-19, Canadians should instead focus on the fact that most of the country could be inoculated against the virus by next fall.

The Liberal government will table its fall economic statement on Monday, which will give Canadians some idea of how large the deficit is. A C.D. Howe report suggests the government could dig its way out of debt again if it raised the GST.

Liberal and Conservative MPs shut down the pleas of the Canadian relatives of Boeing 737 Max crash victims for a public inquiry into the plane’s safety.

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Eric Duncan, the first openly gay Conservative MP, pressed the Liberal government on why they haven’t followed through with election promises to end the ban on gay men giving blood.

And Ingenium, the Crown corporation that runs Canada’s national science museums, has a new acquisition: a bottle of billion-year-old water, which was discovered at the bottom of a mine near Timmins, Ont. “It’s a credit to our spirits that despite these challenging times, we can continue doing science and doing really, really cool things like getting a hold of a water sample that’s a billion years old,” Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said.

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on vaccine nationalism: “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval rating is more than 14 points higher than it was this time last year, despite a tumultuous summer of scandal and enduring delays by the federal government to deliver programs such as comprehensive rapid COVID-19 testing at airports. That congeniality will run out, however, if and when Canadians are forced to watch peer nations start vaccinating their citizens while this country effectively remains in lockdown.”

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on the vaccine challenges ahead: “At any rate, hold on – it can only get worse. Even assuming Health Canada parts with the habits of a lifetime and approves the first vaccine more or less simultaneously with its U.S. and European counterparts, and even assuming the vaccines can be shipped to Canada in advance of approval, and stored (in super-cold conditions) until then, that still leaves the ultimate logistical nightmare: getting them into the arms of millions of Canadians, safely and speedily.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on why the city of Ottawa has fared better in the pandemic than Toronto: “The capital may be, as the late Allan Fotheringham called it, the town that fun forgot, but it is also a town filled with well-educated people in white-collar jobs who mostly live in suburbs, work from home, and drive cars. That may not be a very exciting description of a city, but in a pandemic, it’s the place you want to be.”

Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed (Montreal Gazette) on the next few months: “This winter will be like no other. We need to be proactive in combatting isolation, seasonal depression and loneliness, which will only be exacerbated by the long, dark days ahead.”

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Shachi Kurl (Ottawa Citizen) on battling COVID-19 fatigue: “No longer do we gush over cool scientists who wear Fluevog shoes and periodic table dresses. They’ve started to sound like mom. I love my mom; she is the best. She reminds me daily to take my vitamins. I confess, I’ve tuned her out too.”

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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OPINION | The politics behind Jason Kenney's 'tepid' response to COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion from political scientists Duane Bratt, of Mount Royal University, and Lisa Young, of the University of Calgary.

Jason Kenney is a shrewd and experienced politician.

He has years of experience as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, and was instrumental in helping Harper win a majority in 2011. Returning to Alberta politics, he successfully merged the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties and won a resounding victory in the 2019 provincial election.

And yet, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, he and his government are floundering.

Alberta has the largest absolute number of COVID cases in Canada, despite having the fourth largest population. For 10 days in mid-November, Kenney did not appear in public despite rapidly increasing case counts, hospitalizations and deaths.

Eight months into the pandemic, his cabinet had to meet for eight hours to devise responses that many dismissed as inadequate. And most recently, a public servant has taken the unusual move of leaking information to journalists to highlight the growing divide between the Kenney government and its chief medical officer of health. 

Opinion polling shows that the Kenney government is paying a price for its handling of the pandemic.

Even in the early days of COVID-19, it was noticeable that the Kenney government missed out on the “COVID bump” that most other political leaders enjoyed. This was despite the fact that, in many ways, the Alberta government had responded effectively to the first wave.

But unlike other provincial governments, Kenney and his cabinet were engaged in a very public fight with doctors at a time when the public was banging pots and pans in appreciation of front-line workers.

Not taking a lesson from this, the government engaged in a broader dispute with health-care workers through the fall, and its poll numbers continued to drop.

A slide in public support

Last week, Leger reported that only 37 per cent of Albertans believed that their provincial government was handling COVID-19 well; the lowest, by far, of any province. Then, ThinkHQ reported that 81 per cent of Albertans would support a province-wide mask mandate.

It is unlikely that the measures announced on Nov. 24 will reverse, or even halt, this slide in public support.

How did a skilled politician like Kenney end up in this situation? We offer a few hypotheses. 

First, Kenney is almost certainly concerned about an electoral split on the right. Public opinion on appropriate responses to COVID is split along partisan lines, with those further to the right more resistant to mandatory measures.

Common Ground Politics survey research conducted in Alberta in August found that UCP voters were more likely than others to think that the reopening was too slow. A national survey conducted by Vox Pop found that Conservative voters were less likely to wear masks.

WATCH | Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces new COVID-19 restrictions for Alberta

Premier Jason Kenney outlined the new mandatory restrictions coming into effect, including a ban on all indoor social gatherings. 2:35

In his comments on Tuesday, the premier focused a great deal of attention on acknowledging the concerns of those on the right, who argue that restrictions are unconstitutional, for example. 

The Alberta separatist (or “Wexit”) movement has gained momentum since the 2019 federal election and Justin Trudeau’s re-election.

With his experience merging conservative parties at both the federal and provincial level, the premier is presumably concerned about vote splitting on the right. By appeasing conservatives, especially in rural Alberta, Kenney is consolidating his base.

With 41 of the 87 seats in the Alberta legislature outside of Edmonton and Calgary, consolidating that base makes electoral sense.

The restrictions that were announced on Tuesday, and the exemptions that were offered, lend support to this hypothesis.

Certainly, the decision to extend mask mandates only in Calgary and Edmonton (where they were already required through municipal bylaws) speaks to a desire to please conservative rural voters.

Similarly, the decision to permit in-person religious services to continue while junior high and high schools had to close speaks to a desire to keep voters in conservative-leaning faith communities onside. 

Response informed by ideology

Second, Kenney and many of his close advisors are strong partisans prone to demonizing their political opponents.

Although Alberta has elected conservative governments for decades, we have to go back to the Social Credit governments of the 1950s and 1960s to find a more ideologically conservative government than the current UCP. Although Ralph Klein’s government was driven by fiscal conservatism in its early years, its policies moderated in later years. 

The Kenney government’s strong ideological conservatism has informed its pandemic response, particularly since the end of the spring lockdown.

The government’s approach has been to emphasize personal responsibility rather than implementing restrictions.

Citing the economic cost of the lockdown, Kenney has repeatedly minimized the toll of the pandemic while emphasizing the negative consequences of restrictions on the economy broadly, and small business in particular.

This helps to explain why restaurants, bars, casinos, movie theatres and gyms are permitted to remain open, although with some further restrictions.

While other conservative provincial governments — notably Ontario and Manitoba — are placing greater restrictions on retail, Alberta is not. 

WATCH | University of Alberta’s Tim Caulfield says the province needs a transparent approach to pandemic policy

Tim Caulfield, an expert in health law at the University of Alberta, says the province needs  a co-ordinated and transparent approach when making policy around the coronavirus. 5:40

Third, having been elected on a mandate of “jobs, economy, pipelines,” the Kenney government remains focused on economic performance.

Its promise of balanced budgets are, of course, no longer feasible, but the government remains deeply concerned about the province’s balance sheet. This helps to explain the decision to push forward on cost savings in the public sector — including health-care — during the pandemic, as well as decisions that prioritize the economy. 

These three explanations — electoral considerations, ideology, and a focus on the economy — have resulted in a pandemic response that looks weak when compared to other provinces.

This is a moment that tests political leaders, requiring them to set aside political considerations in favour of the public good. Lives are at stake.

As the death toll continues to rise, the government’s tepid response will come under greater public scrutiny, and the political calculations that have informed it will appear increasingly out of touch.

If the Kenney government is unable to adjust to these new realities, it may pay a steep political price in 2023, as the electorate holds it accountable for both the economic and human cost of the pandemic.


This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.

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