Japan’s new cabinet looks a lot like its old (male-dominated) cabinet

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    The 71-year-old Suga had been Abe’s right-hand man during his long administration and had campaigned on a promise of continuity. Powerful faction leaders within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who had backed Suga for the top job also needed to be appeased.

    So it was perhaps no great surprise to see so many familiar faces in Suga’s first team.
    Taro Aso, the 79-year-old head of a powerful faction, kept his job as deputy prime minister and finance minister, despite a long history of sexist, nationalist and generally insensitive remarks.

    Aso, who once said Hitler had “the right motives,” most recently suggested Japan’s performance in reducing coronavirus deaths was down to cultural superiority, using a term that was widely used during World War II.

    On social media, wags swiftly dubbed it the “ojiichan” or grandpa cabinet.

    Abe had come into office vowing to make women “shine.” He enacted a law to promote women’s participation and advancement in the workplace, and expanded parental leave and child-care services, helping female workforce participation to rise from 63 percent to 71 percent, a higher level than in the United States.

    But many of the new jobs for women were lower pay, contract or part-time positions, and women have suffered disproportionately from layoffs during the coronavirus epidemic. Abe’s vow, for women to fill 30 percent of leadership positions across the country by 2020, has clearly not been met.

    For all its perceived modernity in the West, Japan ranks in 121st place in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index — and even lower, 144th place, in the political empowerment subindex, sandwiched between Qatar and Iran.

    Just 10 percent of the members of parliament’s lower house are women, with the ratio even lower among LDP members. Two women had considered running to succeed Abe within the LDP, but failed to get the 20 signatures needed to get on the ballot, Bloomberg reported, leaving just three men to compete for the top job.

    In Suga’s cabinet, a familiar lineup of political heavyweights kept key roles.

    Toshimitsu Motegi remained in the post of foreign minister, while Taro Kono moved from defense to take charge of administrative reform. Katsunobu Kato has moved from the Health Ministry to take over Suga’s old job of chief cabinet secretary and government spokesman, despite failing to win public confidence in his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

    The youngest cabinet minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, the 39-year-old son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, kept his role as environment minister, while Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi was promoted to take over at the Defense Ministry.

    Suga had been voted in as party leader on Monday, and soon confirmed a quartet of elderly men in key roles beneath him in the LDP hierarchy: the top five jobs occupied by men with an average age of over 71. But Suga did appoint a woman, Seiko Noda, as party deputy secretary general.

    In his cabinet, there were two posts for women: Seiko Hashimoto retains her role as minister in charge of the Olympics, while Yoko Kamikawa, a respected former Harvard graduate takes on a second stint as justice minister.

    But Sanae Takaichi, a conservative who was seen as close to Abe, lost her role in charge of internal affairs, and Masako Mori left the Justice Ministry after less than a year amid the controversy over the arrest and escape of businessman Carlos Ghosn.

    In a public debate last week, Suga said he supported the idea of companies having numerical targets for employing and promoting women, and creating “an environment where women can play active roles.” He also said he would support families who want to have children, and had promised his cabinet would include women provided they are “reform-minded.”

    Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this report.

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