Seiko Noda has long been a trailblazer in a nation that chronically overlooks the talents of women. Japan, after all, trails Ethiopia and Muslim-majority Malaysia in gender empowerment and Saudi Arabia in the number of women in politics.
Nineteen years ago, Noda became the youngest postwar cabinet member. At the time, then-Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi famously dubbed the 37-year-old "the future candidate for female prime minister." In 2015, Noda indeed went on to challenge Shinzo Abe's premiership, arguing change is "hard" to exact "if only men are involved." Big structural reforms, she argued, "need the power of women" to gain broader credibility and traction.