Condensed by Yanagawa Tomoki
Staff of Jesuit Social Center
I belong to the Global Environment Studies of Sophia University’s Faculty of Law. My specialty is social security rather than environmental issues. Nevertheless, environment and social security go together when it comes to building a sustainable system. Laudato Si’ mentions generational justice and the big problems we face so that the system might produce a just distribution among generations.
Reflections from Population Decrease
Graph 1（Long-term projection of population in Japan） gives a clear jet-coaster picture of the increase/decrease in Japan’s population. The population of Japan rapidly increased following the Meiji Restoration and reached its peak in 2010. It has already entered a decrease phase and it is estimated that it will decline at the same angle it had previously climbed.
What could the reason be that the population will decrease so suddenly? The biggest reason is the low birth rate. Comparing changes in the birth rate of industrial countries, we find that there has been a decrease in all of them from 1950 up till now. Some of these countries, like Italy, Germany, or Japan, experienced great reductions in their population, but Sweden, America, France, and others subsequently experienced another increase. So countries diverge. When governments set up environments friendly to working women, the population recovers correspondingly.
Graph 2 shows the birth rate of countries above 1.8 children and those below 1.5. In 2005 Japan’s birth rate was 1.24 and it increased a bit to the present 1.4 rate.
What causes this scarcity of children? One cause is the lack of day nurseries. In a contest of fashionable new words held in 2016 the prize-winning words of one blog were: “I failed to enter a nursery. Go to hell, Japan!!!” On reading this blog, I took those words to be the scream of the woman forced to utter them. In the same way Diet member Yamao Shiori also took the words as screams when she addressed the Prime Minister in the Diet. The reply was, “The blog is anonymous and, since we do not know who wrote it, there is no way to answer.” On hearing this, many people got angry and displayed banners in front of the Diet proclaiming “Failing entrance to a nursery concerns ME! (It is ME who fail to enter a nursery)” The implied message is “lack of nurseries means that parents cannot continue working.” The reason for publicly exposing this issue of children waiting to enter a nursery is not only because of the blogs but because of the questions in the Diet. There are people listening to what is said in the National Diet, where decisions are made.
Another reason has to do with the limited assistance and social expenditure Japan allocates to families (about 1.36% of the GDP). In those countries where the birth rates have recovered, social expenditure toward families exceeds 3% of GDP.
Again, because of the Japanese custom to work for many hours, men will not be able to work at home and bear some of the burden of child care. Child rearing as “a task” means that it is impossible to have two or three more children. When husbands can share some of the housework and care of the children, the number of children will increase.
A further cause could be the small proportion of women (about 10%) in management positions. In Europe the ratio is 30%, in America 40%, and in the Philippines over 50%. The issue is not limited only to continuing work for women. Work is linked to satisfying a person’s life plan, and if there is no hope of reforms regarding working habits, there will be no possibility of giving birth and taking care of children while continuing to work.
The proportion of men remaining single for life is tending to increase. Why is it that the number of marriages is decreasing? One main reason has to do with bad labor conditions. The lower yearly incomes and irregular job conditions are, the less people marry. Strong men become the standard model. Men are expected to earn salaries sufficient to support a family but, since salaries are diminishing, they think that it will be impossible to marry with the jobs they have.
Reflecting on all this, the causes of the decrease in the number of children and the policies to solve this are clear. Aside from increasing nurseries and family assistance, reducing working hours, establishing personnel management systems to open horizons for careers for women, changing the way of thinking about model marriages, and raising wages are all necessary. However, money is being invested in erroneous plans and mental programs, which is quite a distorted way of decision making.
Meaning of the Proportion of Female Diet Members
The distortion is seen in the very small number of female Diet members. The proportion of female members in the Japanese House of Representatives is 9.5%, less than half the world average of 22.7%. Japan is in the lowest group of 38 countries with less than 10% of female members in the House of Representatives, ranking at the 157th out of 191 countries.
According to 1995 records, the world average was 11%. It reached 22% or a double increase only in the last 20 years. In 1995 Japan had only 2.7%, while England had 9.2%, Australia 8.8%, and France 6.4%. In other words, those countries had fewer members then than Japan has now. Just 20 years ago, the fact that democratic countries had few congress women points to the problems in democracy.
What other countries did was introduce “quotas” and set up within the election system a proportionate number of female candidates. They tried to increase the numbers of female representatives. Actually, more than 120 countries, over half the countries of the world, have implemented such quotas
The world’s number-one country regarding the proportion of female representatives is Rwanda at 63.8%. Rwanda is a special case due to the tragic holocaust in which many men lost their lives, after which democracy was restored and a quota was introduced into its Constitution. In a similar way, East Timor enjoys the highest rate of female representatives in Asia at 38.5%, after recovering from its tragic war for independence.
Taiwan, with 38.1% of female representatives, is a notable leader among Asian democracies and a model for Japan. Taiwan has established three different quotas and elected a woman President in 2016. Thailand and Sri Lanka in Asia are at lower levels than Japan, but in the next general elections they could rise above Japan. Myanmar surpassed Japan in the 2015 general election campaign of Aung San Suu Kyi.
People ask what’s wrong with having such few female candidates. In many countries the proportion of female candidates is the barometer of democracy. After all, democracy is a problem of justice, or in other words, of what is truly reasonable. The young Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, formed an equally balanced cabinet of men and women in 2015. When asked by a journalist why he did so, his answer was “Because it’s 2015!” For him, in the year 2015 it was not something to be even questioned.
A hundred years ago there was no way for women actively to participate in politics, but nowadays nobody doubts the rights of women regarding political participation. In Japan legislators have finally sent a bill to the Diet promoting an equal number of male and female candidates (same numbers according to the opposition) during the election period. I think that a hundred years from now it will be only natural for men and women to participate equally in decision making.
Similarly to other developed countries, Japan needs to make a change from its social insurance and tax system and the model of both husband and wife working, by which the husband is the main bread winner with a stable job and a salary to support the family and the wife works to subsidize the household. When female Diet members increase and the economy is formed more by working together, more assistance will be provided for raising children and the problem of decrease in the number of children will begin to be solved. Moreover, support policies and a solution to domestic violence and discrimination based on gender difference will be found.
One of the reasons why Japanese society is not sustainable is, after all, the lack of female legislators. Reasons given are, simply, that women do not have the will or the capacity, or the interest in politics, but more than that, it is that even if they do desire to enter into politics, they can seldom do so because, in fact, there are a number of mechanisms excluding them. We need to reflect with much more concern on whether this is really democratic.
One way to increase the number of female legislators is to propose a bold quota, so that it will be left to them to reach that quota. Nevertheless, people say that incapable women will emerge. In fact, it is more likely that talented people will take the initiative to compete, and the data show that the diversity of members will rise in the Diet and discussions will become more alive.
What is Democracy about?
The premise underlying democracy is that society is composed of a variety of people. In a final stage when there is no consensus among differing opinions, decisions are made by the majority. But if people of the minority become few in number, they are eliminated, and if their views are not accepted, this cannot be called democratic. Minorities are inevitable, but how much attention is paid to them? In other words, are their rights preserved? Are they able to oppose whenever they disagree with the decision? It is very important to make efforts so that a wide consensus of agreement can be obtained.
We have democratic systems to make fair and just decisions, and consensus cannot be reached if we do not assume that people’s opinions can always alter decisions that have been reached. Opinions can be changed by dialogue with people of differing positions and interests. It can be said that the task of democracy is to endow the future with flexibility. But if politics simply considers the other side as enemies, there is no further meaning in continuing discussion and the result will be that the winners in the election will be able to do anything they please, and democratic assemblies will become meaningless.
Democracy is not only important as a system. It is a customary standard considered normally important, whether it is embodied in writing or not. I feel that nowadays people understand democracy to mean merely decisions made by the majority, so the number of people not following democratic norms is on the increase. Democracy is becoming meaningless, and there is fear that this is a very dangerous sign.
What is the meaning of “Representative”?
Legislators in Japan, with its population of 100 million, are elected by the people to conduct discussions in the Diet and try to reach agreement by exchanging views. They run a representative democracy.
Whenever we hear the word “representative,” we often imagine very smart and clever people with special qualities to make decisions—leaders and administrators able to mobilize us. However, the origin of the word “representation” is “repeat” (re) and “present” (exist). In other words, Diet members, our representatives, are the people that bring our voice to the Diet or make us present there.
Representatives at times represent us or our ideology. Party members try to represent the party ideology. Again, Japanese elections are basically local and, thus, the representatives are selected from residential locations. As a result, things unrelated to local issues, like the political independent identity, are seldom taken into account.
Identity politics is considered very important nowadays. Nevertheless, we must remember that identity means sometimes “you and I are different.” Identity difference is emphasized too much, so when there occur contradictory points at issue, a political fight erupts concerning who will win or lose. Such sterile political moves excluding certain people are totally opposed to democracy. Although identities could be different, being able to assist others opens up the possibility of dialogue and the maintenance of such an attitude is very important today.
I call networking between us and our representatives “circuit connection.” Essentially, delegates should do what we entrust them to do, but more than that, they often push for decisions on their own without reference to us. In order to prevent that, there is a need to increase mutual communications, which are totally lacking. That is not so difficult. We can enrich democracy by acting as election volunteers, meeting with persons with similar political thinking, or making appeals to local politicians by FAX. Piling up such small means of communication and establishing closer channels for dialogue help also to enrich democracy. Many people hesitate to get involved in politics, but I am convinced that if many more people were to get actively involved in politics, it would be possible to convert our country into a sustainable society.