TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's parliament on Wednesday (May 16) passed a law to encourage female candidates to stand for elections in a country where women are vastly underrepresented in politics.
Under the new law, political parties are urged to make the number of male and female candidates as equal as possible and are encouraged to set targets for gender parity.
But the law includes no penalties for parties that fail to do so, nor incentives to encourage them.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made increasing female participation in the workforce a key plank of his economic policies as Japan struggles with a labour shortage.
But only 47 of the 465 members of parliament's lower house are women, a ratio of 10.1 per cent that puts Japan behind Myanmar and Gambia in terms of female government representation, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
"I hope this law will make a big change in Japanese politics," said Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda, one of the members who drafted the legislation, according to public broadcaster NHK.
"I hope women who were hesitant to become candidates will be courageous" and run for election, she said.
The law was put forward by a cross-party group of lawmakers, but reportedly faced opposition during the drafting process despite containing no penalties for non-compliance.
Next year Japan will hold regional elections in April and elections for parliament's upper house in July.
Japan ranked bottom among G7 countries in the World Economic Forum's latest "Global Gender Gap Report", coming 114th worldwide.