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Female empowerment? One woman and 19 men in Abe's cabinet

Former bureaucrat Katayama to serve as Japan's regional revitalization minister

Regional Revitalization and Gender Equality Minister Satsuki Katayama is the only woman in Japan's new cabinet.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picked just one woman to serve in his revamped 20-member cabinet, a move that seemingly runs counter to his promise of advancing women in the workplace.

The lone woman, Satsuki Katayama, was appointed minister of regional revitalization and gender equality as part of Abe's cabinet reshuffle Tuesday.

"I acknowledge that the ratio of women in the cabinet is low," Abe said at a news conference. "I hope that Ms. Katayama, who has enough presence for two or even three people, will raise the banner high for women's advancement."

Katayama joined the Finance Ministry after graduating from the University of Tokyo and became the first female director of Japan's defense budget there. She was elected to the lower house in 2005, defeating a candidate who opposed then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal privatization effort. She was elected to the upper house in 2010 after losing her lower house seat the previous year.

She is known for her strong ties to industries ranging from manufacturing and logistics to energy.

Until now, Abe had picked at least two female ministers since becoming prime minister for a second time in 2012. Five women joined his cabinet as part of a reshuffle in September 2014.

In a report by the World Economic Forum last year, Japan ranked 88th out of 144 countries in the ratio of women to men at the ministerial level. Part of the problem is that Japan has fewer female lawmakers overall -- just 10.1% out of the 465 lower house members elected in 2017 were women, for example. Meanwhile, countries like the U.K. have women at the top of government.

Seiko Noda, who was replaced as interior minister in the latest reshuffle, expressed concerns. "Women's empowerment was the top priority when Prime Minister Abe returned to office six years ago, but it worries me greatly that the number of female cabinet members continues to fall," she told reporters Tuesday.

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