Representatives from each of the Group of Seven (G7) nations gathered in the Japanese city of Nikko, 70 miles north of Tokyo, this weekend for a two-day summit on gender equality and women’s empowerment, where they discussed everything from sexual violence to LGBT rights to economic imbalances—vowing to reduce the wage gap and boost women’s representation in executive and managerial positions.
But the summit also made for an awkward photo-op, highlighting Japan’s ongoing struggles with gender: with the country hosting the G7 this year, Japan’s representative to the gender equality meeting, Masanobu Ogura, served as its chair—he also was its only man.
When asked how he felt being the only male representative, Ogura, a Cabinet minister, said that male leaders with strong enthusiasm for gender equality are still needed, according to local paper Shimotsuke Shimbun. Still, the optics are not likely to help Japan ward off mounting criticism of its deficiencies in gender and LGBT rights from its peers in the informal economic bloc of advanced democracies.
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The summit in Nikko came only days after the World Economic Forum released its latest annual Global Gender Gap Index, which assesses the state of gender parity across four key metrics: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Japan, at 125th of 146 countries in the index, ranks the lowest among the G7 states, which also includes Germany (6th), the U.K. (15th), France (40th), the U.S. (43rd), and Italy (79th).
Japan has flagged particularly in women’s political empowerment. According to the WEF index, it’s one of only seven countries that have regressed on this metric since 2017. While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has fielded several female candidates in recent elections, and some have been elected as lawmakers, men still make up about 90% of parliamentary and ministerial posts, and—like the U.S.—there has never yet been a female head of state.
A similarly dismal disparity exists in Japan’s boardrooms, where only 11.4% of executives in publicly listed companies are women. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised in April to raise that to 30% by 2030.
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