Tokyo : Women take on Japan's political gender gap. Only two women are in PM Kishida's 19-member cabinet.

Women are a rare sight in Japanese politics, but 20-year-old Rinka Saito is determined to run for office one day because ''you can't have true democracy without diversity''.

She is one of a small group of young women being offered mentoring and money to help them break into a political scene that remains utterly dominated by men.

Once elected, female leaders in Japan face a tough environment, describing sexual harassment, chauvinist habits and ingrained views of government as a man's world.

Even so, Saito, the youngest participant of the scheme run by the Mirakami Family Foundation, told AFP the part-time programme had brought her ''a step closer to my dream''.

There are only two women in Prime Minister  FUMIO KISHIDA'S 19-MEMBER cabinet, and parliament's powerful 465-member lower chamber is 90 percent male.

The Tokyo-based foundation has organised a series of seminars by leading politicians for 20 women aged under 40 in a bid to address that imbalance.

The participants, chosen from 200 applicants, also receive a grant of one million yen [$7,400].

'' I became interested in becoming a politician  because I thought I could give hope to people with disabilities,'' said Saito, who has had surgery for hearing loss.

High-profile examples of discrimination in Japan, such as the forced sterilisation of disabled people under a new-defunct eugenic law, strengthened her resolve.

Saito, a social sciences student, initially didn't know where to begin.

She said the foundation has helped her build a network and better understand the ''good and bad aspects of the political world''.

Foundation chair Rei Murakami Frenzel, 28, was surprised so many people applied for the first programme, which ran from November to March. [AFP]


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