Japanese Women v. Shinzo Abe

Japanese women are challenging the three-year-old Shinzo Abe government with “constitution cafes” and street protests.

Protesting in Tokyo on April 11
Protesting in Tokyo on April 11
Philippe Pons

MAIOKA â€" In a small room in the town hall of Maioka in outer Yokohama, 20 women, most of them mothers, sit on tatami floor mats listening to Keiko Ota. A member of the Yokohama bar association, Ota teaches the group about the country's 1947 constitution.

“The constitution is too often perceived in Japan as a gift from the government to the people, rather than as an expression of citizens’ rights and popular sovereignty,” the young attorney explains.

The subject of the constitution is all the rage in Japan nowadays, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues his efforts to rid the document of its pacifist provisions. The meetings in Maioka form part of a growing trend of initiatives launched by Japanese women since Abe came to power three years ago. Across the country, women are meeting in cafes and restaurants to learn about the constitution and debate the politics surrounding its revision.

Local media has dubbed the phenomenon “constitution cafes” â€" kempo kafe in Japanese. They are at the heart of a social media-driven movement organized by women to engage in national politics. “This movement of political consciousness was born after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011,” says Ota. “Like me, many mothers worried about the health of their children, and we slowly realized all the lies the government was telling us.”

“Revising the constitution to allow Japan to become a full-fledged military power is another issue that worries mothers,” she adds. “This is why they try to understand what’s going on. They’re asking why Shinzo Abe blindly follows the Americans and wonder if military service will become mandatory.”

Voices of reason

Ota says that men are "prisoners of their work lives" and therefore don't have the same kind of political awareness as women. To wake men up to the evolving political situation, the lawyer started organizing “constitution bars” on Sundays where women bring their husbands along. "Women intuitively feel the gravity of the changes that are going on in society,” she says.

Some believe debating isn’t enough and have begun protesting instead. On June 20, 15,000 women dressed in red surrounded the parliament building to protest against the constitutional revision. Their color choice was a reference to the feminist “red socks” movement in Iceland in the 1970s.

Despite her deteriorating health at the age of 93, the novelist and female monk Jakucho Setouchi gave an impassioned speech to the crowd. “I am on the verge of death, but I do not want to die without warning against an atmosphere that reminds me of the 1930s and 40s, when the government tried to limit freedom of expression,” she said.

Increased visibility

The 1947 constitution granted women the right to vote and stand for public office. But there are few women in the Japanese parliament, which ranks 114th out of 140 countries in the world for female participation, according to the 2015 report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. At the same time, women have often been at the center of grassroots movements, leading the fight in the 1970s, for example, against pollution and against Japan's military alliance with the United States.

The political role of Japanese women is neglected by the mainstream press. But over the past few months, women's weeklies have begun paying more and more attention. After years of focusing on princesses, cooking and health, the weeklies realized that their readership desired more political content.

In 2014, the fashion magazine Very published an article on the constitutional revision and the state secrets law rammed through parliament. Readers continue to demand this kind of writing, and political articles feature among the most read in such magazines.

“Many women are standing up to the Abe government and its sexist tone. Many more men than women support Abe. This is a gender gap that didn’t exist in the past,” says Mari Miura, a political scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University. “In Japan, femininity is associated with benevolence, maternity and non-violence, and this is the basis on which women participate in politics.”

“Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is trying to redefine the idea of a good mother as one who supports a strong state,” she adds. “If women participate and express their opinions more, the impact on national politics will not be negligible.”

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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