Woman, former Olympian now at the helm . . .
Japan’s 2021 Tokyo Olympics preparations hit a pothole last week when former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori had to step down as the head of Japan’s organizing committee. Mori had complained that, in a discussion about increasing women’s participation on the committee, women talked too much at meetings. Mori initially resisted calls to step down, but mounting criticism made his position increasingly untenable, especially after Toyota, a major sponsor, said his comments were not consistent with the company’s values. Mori has been replaced by Seiko Hashimoto, a woman and seven-time Olympian who had been serving as Japan’s Olympics minister.
The wrong kind of attention . . .
Mori’s comments provoked criticism in Japan and internationally. However, he also received messages of encouragement saying that those who took offence were too sensitive. The mixed reaction is reflective of Japan’s halting progress toward gender equality. According to the most recent Global Gender Gap report, Japan ranks 144 out of 152 countries in women’s political empowerment (page 13 of report). Canada ranks 25, much higher but perhaps surprisingly low for a country that prides itself on gender inclusiveness and equality.
Short-term fix, longer-term challenges . . .
Mori’s abrupt departure raised concerns about what the leadership change might mean for the already challenging task of hosting the Olympic games amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some believe, however, that the organizing committee will be able to adjust without too many hitches. The more deep-seated issue is the persistence of certain attitudes toward women. In July, the Japanese government abandoned its pledge that women would hold 30 per cent of leadership positions by 2020, saying it would instead aim to reach this target sometime in the next decade. Amid the furor over Mori’s comments, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party tried to show its commitment to gender equality by saying it would invite more female members to key meetings. But the move backfired when it was discovered that the women participants would be expected not to speak at these events.
- The Guardian: Japan’s ruling party invites women to meetings – but won’t let them speak
- The Japan Times: The sexism scandal engulfing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (audio)
- Nikkei Asia: Tokyo 2020 committee picks Olympian Hashimoto as new president