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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s aim of bridging the gender-equality gap is beginning to take shape in Parliament, although it is largely thanks to women from opposition parties.

Twenty-eight women were elected to the upper house of Parliament recently, tying the record set in the previous upper-house election three years ago. That represented 23% of the 124 seats at stake. Sixteen of the 28 new women came from outside Mr. Abe’s ruling coalition, which retained its majority in the election, putting Mr. Abe on track to become the nation’s longest-serving leader.

In elections that focused on diversity to an extent that is rare for Japan, opposition parties hoped that fielding a large number of female candidates would loosen Mr. Abe’s grip on power.

A record 28% of candidates were women, in the first national election held since a gender-parity law was implemented last year saying that political parties must aim to put forth an equal number of male and female candidates. There is no penalty for parties that don’t meet the target, and 15% of the candidates from Mr. Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party were women.

While many opposition women fell short, a few upset incumbents from the ruling party. Shizuka Terata, an independent backed by several opposition parties, won a seat in northern Akita prefecture over an LDP incumbent.

Ms. Terata campaigned against Mr. Abe’s plan to deploy a missile-defense system in the prefecture, and prevailed despite a visit by Mr. Abe to Akita on the day before the election to stump for the LDP incumbent, Matsuji Nakaizumi.

“In the latter part of the campaign, I felt as if I was battling the entire government,” Ms. Terata said after her victory.

In Miyagi prefecture, Noriko Ishigaki, a newcomer from the Constitutional Democratic Party, upset incumbent Jiro Aichi from the LDP, who had been elected by the prefecture three times in the past.

Mr. Abe’s party will not feel immediate pressure to field more women, but “the gradual trend toward more female candidates will continue into the next election,” said Kentaro Maeda, who teaches politics at the University of Tokyo’s graduate school of law and politics.

Elections for Parliament’s lower house must be held by the fall of 2021. Only 47 of 463 lawmakers in that chamber are women.

Diversity in general was a theme of Sunday’s election. Two candidates with severe disabilities were elected from a small opposition party, including one who is largely paralyzed owing to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Taiga Ishikawa, one of the first openly gay politicians in Japan, also won a seat, running on the ticket of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party. His party plans to introduce a bill to recognize same-sex marriage.

As of June 1, the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranked Japan 163rd in the world in terms of women’s representation in the legislature. The U.S. tied for 77th, with women making up 23% of the House and 25% of the Senate.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

The World Food Program (WFP) is working with the Bangladeshi government to lift rural women out of extreme poverty through a ground-breaking program. With an investment of 72 million U.S. dollars, the Bangladeshi government, with technical assistance from WFP, is set to reach 100,000 women with livelihood training, behavior change education, as well as food assistance, said the the food-assistance branch of the United Nations.

The participants of the Investment Component for Vulnerable Group Development (ICVGD) program come from all 64 districts of the country, residing in remote areas that are prone to natural disasters, such as floods, tornadoes and cyclones. They face high poverty levels with low employment opportunities.

“WFP applauds the government for its commitment towards empowering women and achieving food security in Bangladesh,” said Richard Ragan, WFP Representative and Country Director in Bangladesh. “Thanks to commitments like this, rural women will now have a chance to transform their lives and that of their children through skills and knowledge.”

Currently in its second phase, the program consists of training in entrepreneurship, financial management and life skills, as well as behavior change education in the areas of nutrition, health, and water, sanitation and hygiene. Each participant will receive a start-up grant of 15,000 taka (180 U.S. dollars) and a monthly ration of 30 kg of fortified rice during their training period. During the first phase of this program, which started in 2015, 8,000 rural women were provided with similar support. An evaluation of the first phase showed improvements in income, food security and dietary diversity of these women and their families.

WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.

Source: Xinhua

Campaigners urge government to ban employers from forcing footwear on female staff

A group of Japanese women have submitted a petition to the government to protest against what they say is a de facto requirement for female staff to wear high heels at work.

The KuToo campaign – a play on words from the Japanese kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain – was launched by the actor and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa and quickly won support online.

Campaigners said wearing high heels was considered to be near-obligatory when job hunting or working at many Japanese companies.

Ishikawa told reporters after meeting labour ministry officials: “Today we submitted a petition calling for the introduction of laws banning employers from forcing women to wear heels as sexual discrimination or harassment.”

The actor explained how a government official had told her she “was a woman and sympathetic to our petition … and told us that this is the first time voices of this kind had reached the ministry”.

“It’s the first step forward,” Ishikawa added.

Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

The case underlines what some experts say is a deep-seated problem with misogyny in Japan. Last year, an MP from Japan’s governing party said women should have multiple children. Women who preferred to remain single would become a burden on the state later in life, added Kanji Kato.

A tweet by Ishikawa earlier this year, complaining about the requirement to wear high heels for a hotel job, went viral, prompting her to launch the campaign.

She said in response to the global anti-sexual-harassment #MeToo movement: “As I realised that so many people face the same problem, I decided to launch the campaign.”

Campaigners said the shoes were akin to modern foot-binding. Others also urged that dress codes such as the near-ubiquitous business suits for men be loosened in the Japanese workplace.

A similar petition against high heels at work was signed by more than 150,000 people in the UK in support of the receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work for wearing flat shoes. She was told to go home by the City accountancy firm PwC on her first day as a temporary receptionist in May 2016 for refusing to wear 2-4in heels.

The case prompted an inquiry on workplace dress codes by a committee of MPs, which highlighted other cases in the UK where women were required to wear heels, even for jobs that included climbing ladders, carrying heavy luggage, carrying food and drink up and down stairs and walking long distances.

However, the government refused to change the law, claiming scope for redress already existed under the Equality Act 2010.

In 2015 the director of the Cannes film festival apologised over women being denied access to the red carpet for not wearing high heels. Cannes kept the dress code, despite a protest by the actor Julia Roberts, who went barefoot the next year.

In 2017, Canada’s British Columbia province banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels, saying the practice was dangerous and discriminatory.

Earlier this year, Norwegian Air was widely criticised for requiring female cabin crew to carry a doctor’s note if they wanted to wear flat shoes. Ingrid Hodnebo, a women’s spokesperson for the country’s Socialist Left party, accused the airline of being stuck in the “Mad Men universe from the 1950s and 60s”.

Source: The Guardian

Misuzu Ikeda becomes first assembly woman in Tarumizu as record numbers of women elected nationwide. Misuzu Ikeda has struck a rare blow for Japanese women in politics by becoming the first female candidate to be elected to the local assembly in the southern city of Tarumizu.

Ikeda hugged supporters on Sunday night when she finished third out of 17 candidates for the 14-seat assembly in Tarumizu, which is officially recognised as a city despite its relatively small population of 15,000. Noting that she was the first assemblywoman in the city’s 61-year history, the former tax office employee promised to work towards a society “where residents feel cared about”, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

The election also marked the first time a female candidate had stood for a Tarumizu seat for 20 years, and the first time two women had run for the legislature. The other candidate, Rieko Takahashi, did not win a seat.

Six women were elected city mayors in Sunday’s nationwide elections – breaking the previous record of four, set in 2015. The number of women elected to city assemblies reached 1,239 – another high – according to the Mainichi Shimbun. Japan, though, still performs poorly in international comparisons of female representation in politics.

Before Sunday’s elections, four out of every five local assembly members nationwide were men, with almost 20% of assemblies having no female councillors at all. That prompted parliament to pass non-binding legislation last year calling on parties to field equal numbers of male and female candidates.

Despite the move, candidate lists, local assemblies and the two houses of parliament are still dominated by men. Many women who run for office encounter resistance from male-dominated party organisations, while a quarter of first-term assemblywomen say they have been sexually harassed by fellow assembly members and constituents.

“What’s behind all this is that Japan is still very much a male-dominated society and has not got used to women who are trying to take leadership roles and speak their minds,” Masae Ido, a former MP, told the Asahi. Only 10% of MPs in Japan’s lower house are women, according to a survey of female representation in national parliaments by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with Japan ranking 165th among 193 countries. Just over 32% of Britain’s House of Commons are women. Only 23.7% of the US Congress are women.

Despite vowing to establish a society in which “women can shine”, the prime minister, Shinzō Abe, appointed just one woman – the regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama – to his cabinet in a reshuffle last October.

Source: The Guardian

South Korea has offered its support for a proposed Asian women’s hockey league involving the two Koreas, China and Japan, officials here said Wednesday. The Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) said its president, Chung Mong-won, met with International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President Rene Fasel over the issue on the sidelines of the IIHF World Championship Division I Group A tournament in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, last week.

During their talks, Fasel told Chung of the IIHF’s plans to start a four-nation Asian league, with clubs from South Korea, North Korea, China and Japan competing against each other. The idea was first broached by China as it prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

According to the KIHA, Chung has agreed to throw his support behind the initiative since the Asian league would also benefit South Korean women’s hockey.

“In terms of the talent pool, South Korea is the weakest link of the four Northeast Asian countries,” the KIHA said in a statement. “There are no women’s hockey teams at any elementary, middle or high schools, and there’s only one semi-pro club. If an Asian league comes into place, it will help improve the competitiveness of our players and raise the interest level in women’s hockey as well.”

In the current world rankings, Japan is the tops among the four at No. 7, followed by South Korea at No. 16, China at No. 20 and North Korea at No. 28. The KIHA said Chung and Fasel agreed to maintain their dialogue on developing hockey in Asia.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

ComfortDelGro Corp and its subsidiaries SBS Transit and Vicom have appointed three women on their boards, raising the group’s combined female board representation to at least 30 per cent – up from around 20 per cent.

Ms Jessica Cheam, Ms Chua Mui Hoong and Ms Tan Poh Hong join a board that has long been male-dominated. ComfortDelGro said the three bring with them “diverse skills sets in the areas of sustainability, political and media relations, and food security and safety”.

They replace two stalwarts who have retired from their respective boards after putting in a combined 32 years of service – Mr David Wong of ComfortDelGro and Mr Wee Siew Kim of SBS Transit. Group chairman Lim Jit Poh said: “We embarked on our board renewal process in 2017 with a clear view to bringing in greater expertise especially in disciplines that are new to the Group. We have also added more female directors as part of our commitment to gender equality.”

Ms Cheam, 36, who joined the ComfortDelGro board on Jan 1 this year, is managing editor of Eco-Business, a sustainability publication. She is an adjunct research associate for the Centre for Liveable Cities, a Singapore think-tank focused on creating and sharing knowledge on liveable and sustainable cities.

Ms Chua, 49, who joined the SBS Transit board on April 26 this year, is opinion editor of The Straits Times.

Ms Tan, 60, who joined the Vicom board a day earlier, was chief executive of Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore from 2009 to 2017.

Last year, the ComfortDelGro group of companies brought in three retired permanent secretaries, an artificial intelligence and big data expert, a professor in sustainable infrastructure engineering and a retired audit partner.

With the latest changes, the boards of ComfortDelGro and SBS Transit will have 10 and nine directors respectively – seven men and three women for ComfortDelGro and six men and three women for SBS Transit. Vicom will have 10 directors, comprising seven men and three women.

The percentages of women on the boards of companies now range from 30 to 33 per cent, higher than the Council for Board Diversity’s target of 20 per cent in 2020.

Source: Straits Times

China will continue to support UNESCO in empowering more women and children to embrace a brighter future via platforms created by the development of the Belt and Road, said Peng Liyuan, wife of President Xi Jinping.

Peng, UNESCO special envoy for the advancement of girls’ and women’s education, made the remark at a special session on girls’ and women’s education held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on Tuesday. She was accompanying Xi on a state visit to France.

Peng said promoting education of girls and women is a lofty cause that deserves attention, support and dedication from more people.

After some laureates of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education gave brief remarks on their understanding and promotion of the undertaking, Peng said she appreciated the efforts made by the United Nations body and the prizewinners.

In discussing her work in this field over the past five years, Peng referred to the Spring Bud Project, a program launched by China Children and Teenagers’ Fund to both help female school dropouts return to the classroom as well as improve teaching conditions in impoverished areas.

Knowledge and skills are two great forces that can change the lives of women, and with equal and quality education, they all have the opportunity to be outstanding, she added.

In the meeting with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay before the special session, Peng said China firmly supports the UN body and her work, and she hopes China and UNESCO will continue to deepen cooperation to jointly promote world peace and prosperity as well as the progress of human civilization.

Azoulay said that China has made great achievements in the past 70 years, including progress in the development of education and women’s rights.

UNESCO highly values the cooperation with China and the support from China is of great importance under current circumstances, she said.

In an interview with Xinhua News Agency, Azoulay spoke highly of Peng as a UNESCO special envoy.

“Peng is particularly committed to the central role of teachers in gender equality,” Azoulay said, adding that UNESCO appreciates the contribution of Peng to educating girls and women, as well as the long-term partnership with China in helping ensure that access to quality education for all becomes a reality.

Peng was nominated as a UNESCO special envoy on March 27, 2014. Since then, Peng has worked closely with UNESCO to promote equal rights for women in education, self-development and in achieving success, Azoulay said.

Supported by the Chinese government, the UNESCO prize directly contributes to the attainment of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those dealing with education and gender equality.

Source: China Daily