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Seiko Noda is the 'iron lady' of Japanese politics. She has been a member of parliament for over thirty years. However, she is one of the few women on the Japanese political scene. Women in the Land of Cherry Blossom are still struggling with the problem of the 'glass ceiling' in workplaces where managerial positions are reserved for men. Seiko Noda wants to change that.
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Seiko Noda went against the current from an early age. In her youth, she experienced the difficulties of living in a strongly patriarchal society, which is filled with strict rules. She attended Futaba secondary school in the suburbs of Tokyo. However, she had to leave it because she had received her motorbike licence against the school rules. She continued her education in the United States. Seiko Noda is a politician of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. She was under thirty when she was first elected to parliament. A few years later, when she became Minister of Post and Telecommunications, she was also the youngest member of the cabinet. In 2008, she was appointed Minister for Consumer Affairs and Minister for Science, Technology and Food Safety in the Yasuo Fukuda Government.
She remembers that the beginnings in politics were not easy.
- When I entered the political world, it was an entirely masculine world. My grandfather was a politician (Noda Uichi, former Minister of Construction), people often think that he "chose" me to follow in his footsteps. In fact, he was strongly opposed to my political career. I think he was worried about what would happen to me if he let his beloved granddaughter enter a male-dominated world," says Noda in an interview with Nippon.com.
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At the same time, she mentions that many of her supporters in the party advised her that in order to pursue a political career she should give up her femininity.
- People told me to change my behaviour. They said that if I gave the impression of being a free and lonely woman, flattered by men who know nothing about the difficulties of bringing up children, I would not be able to win an election. Ever since I was twenty-five years old, they kept telling me that I should basically behave like a man, not get married and not have children. When I got married at forty, I felt what it meant to be a woman. I think it was the first time I understood myself as a woman. Until then, I was a bit like a politician-man dressed as a woman - she recalls.
In recent years, Seiko Noda has faced the problems and struggles of many women trying to reconcile work with raising children. She herself became the mother of a disabled son, who was born when she reached the age of 50, after many years of infertility treatment. Noda devotes a significant part of her career to encouraging women to play an active role in politics. She put herself forward as a candidate for the post of Secretary General of the liberal-democratic party which has been ruling uninterruptedly in Japan for over 60 years. She has succeeded. Today she is someone who acts as an intermediary between the Prime Minister and party members.
Seiko Noda has opened a “school” with lectures and seminars in Tokyo and in her home district of Gifu. The aim of these activities is to prepare women who want to pursue a political career. Noda stresses that the first step in this direction is to free oneself from the pattern of thinking that says there is no place for women in politics. Through her actions, she wants to first increase the number of women in local governments. In the municipal elections in 2019, women accounted for only 14% of the elected representatives in the local councils, and of the 1788 councils across the country, as many as 16.9% had no women as candidates.
Seiko Noda says that around 80% of care for her son is provided by her husband, who has a much more flexible work schedule. She is eager to share this example in order to show that it is possible to dispel the stereotype in Japan that bringing up children is the domain of women.
A future Prime Minister of Japan?
After the birth of her son, she began to boldly pursue her goals in politics. She started to speak clearly about her ambition to become party leader. In one of the conversations, she indicated that it is a mistaken belief in the political world that the successes of those at the summits of power guarantee the prosperity of those at the lower levels. On the contrary, she believes that it should be the other way around, with the weak and the minorities who know where the problem lies.
Just after her appointment as Secretary General of the party, Seiko Noda said that it was time for a woman to head the government in Japan. In her opinion, this would require, above all, many changes in this male-dominated society. Noda was mentioned backstage as the successor to the resigning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. She herself, however, pointed out that she was not prepared for an earlier political struggle, as the elections were only scheduled for 2021. Yoshihide Suga finally took office in September. There was only room for two women in the 20-member cabinet. This is well below the target set by the government, which is to employ women in around 30% of management positions in all areas of society by the end of 2020. This was quite a disappointment, all the more so as Shinzo Abe had been trying for eight years to promote the strengthening of the role of women in politics. In Japan, only 10% of members of the lower house of parliament are women.
Seiko Noda believes that the solution to Japan's demographic problem, where the population is ageing, is quite simple. It is enough to release women's potential and encourage them to be more active. On the other hand, any stereotypes and inappropriate working culture that does not benefit the family must be abolished.
The actions taken by Shinzo Abe have had some positive effects. The female occupational activity rate increased from 65% in 2013 to 71.3% in 2018. According to official data, the Abe government created about 535,000 places in childcare facilities, which in turn is free of charge for children up to two years old coming from low-income families. Fathers, like mothers, can go on up to one year's paid parental leave, and the parental allowance has been raised to 67% of the salary, from 50% earlier. However, this has not solved all the problems. The lack of daycare facilities continues to be a major obstacle facing mothers wishing to return to work. As far as men are concerned, around 6% of them take paternity leave.
In the report prepared by the Global Gender Gap World Economic Forum, Japan was ranked 110 out of 149 countries. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, women there earn 24.5% less than men - the third largest pay gap among all OECD countries.
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