DUBAI: Japanese-Turkish politician Arfiya Eri, Japan’s youngest female parliamentarian and member of the Liberal Democratic Party, sat down with Arab News Japan to discuss diversity in politics as well as Japan-GCC relations during her first overseas trip since being elected.
Born in 1988, Eri was born to an Uyghur-Japanese father and an Uzbek-Japanese mother. She previously worked at the United Nations, covering human rights issues. In April, she was elected to the House of Representatives by Chiba’s 5th district.
On Oct. 13, the politician visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the first time, as part of her first trip abroad since being elected, to promote Japanese pears that are harvested in Ichikawa, a city she represents.
“(This trip) is symbolic in many ways. As a representative of Ichikawa, we have a decade long relationship (with the UAE).. It is an honor to expand my international relations and and it is an honor to be able to travel together with my constituents,” she said.
“I come from an Islamic culture and family, so to be able to connect those with my country is a great honor,” she continued.
Eri highlighted that there are so many similarities between the UAE and Japan. “I think both countries are leaders. Leaders in technology, leaders in progressing both of our regions forward, but also keeping our traditions at the same time. There is so much we could do together.”
In terms of Saudi Arabia-Japan relations, Eri said she is very hopeful and looks forward to collaboration between the two nations. “There is a Japan-Saudi agenda for 2030, where we signed multiple memorandums of understanding (to expand) our partnership together in finance and different industries.
“I think Japan can play a greater role as a friend to the Middle East…and I look forward to seeing that develop further,” she added.
Eri has always been an advocate for women’s rights, inspiring many young women around the world to venture into the field of politics through her noticeable achievements. She recently made it to TIME magazine’s top 100 most influential people.
この度、市川・浦安のみなさまにご支援・ご指導をいただいたことにより、アメリカのニュース誌「TIME」の「次世代を担う世界の100人」に選ばれました。— 英利 アルフィヤ (@eri_arfiya) September 14, 2023
For advice to Saudi women getting into politics, Eri believes that if they put their mind to it, they can make it. “Doors are opening for women now,” she said.
She added that she has noticed the incredible progress that Saudi Arabia has done, in terms of women’s involvement in politics. “I’m not an expert, but I’m learning that Saudi Arabia is advancing in terms of women’s participation in all sectors,” she said. “I look forward to both countries learning from each other and partnering with each other.”
Not only is Eri the youngest female parliamentarian, but she is also the first Turkish lawmaker in the country.
“There are still very few people who look like me, who are my age, who are of my gender, and who are of my identity,” she said.
“Often times when I’m in the parliament, because there are still very few people like me, I often feel that my opinions are in the minority, but then I go back to my constituency and most people agree with my thoughts,” she added.
Being the first Turkish female in Japan’s parliament, Eri surprisingly faced no difficult challenges so far regarding her identity. “I think one thing that has been alarming is the rise of discriminatory, violent language against women online from anonymous accounts,” she said. “What’s reassuring is that I rarely experience it in real life, both campaigning and working.”
Moreover, the politician is extremely proud to be part of the LDP, saying the party has been elected in the majority of elections because it represents Japanese people.
“We are a party that is not necessarily aligned by a set of policies, for example, we are aligned by an identity that appreciates free speech, free thought, free expression of idea,” she said. “We will always have such diversity in thoughts and ideas being represented.”
However, she recognizes that the political world in Japan is still mainly represented by men and can still do more to achieve equality. “The LDP has set a goal to have 30% female candidates within in the party by 2030. I frankly find 30 to be quite low…I think we should be looking at 50%.” she explained.
On the positive side, she said that Japan has seen an uprise in the number of women candidates across various parties in recent years. “Not just women,” she explained “but also a wide range of identities and backgrounds are being represented in Japanese politics.. I hope we continue onwards with that.”
Furthermore, Eri is also representing the city of Urayasu, alongside Ichikawa. She shared that she loves the two cities due to their extreme diversity and progressiveness. “We have a huge, vibrant population of millennials, Gen Z, and an older population too who are thriving in their 80s and 90s,” she said.
“I get to represent cities that are not only incredibly progressive in many ways, but also accepting of different lifestyles and values, including traditional values of Japan,” she added.
The politician’s current focus is mainstreaming women’s issues. She goes back and forth every day from Tokyo to Ichikawa and Urayasu. She recently attended an all-women townhall to listen to women’s issues herself and she spends her time communicating with the community about many issues such as work-life balance, education, and more.
ウラヤススポーツday☀️ pic.twitter.com/lHvNnxmycX— 英利 アルフィヤ (@eri_arfiya) September 24, 2023
“I’m trying to build a Japanese political world where more voices and more faces of real Japanese people can be seen,” she explained.
She added that she would love to see more collaboration between women in parliament in the GCC and Japan, to mainstream women’s issues further. “I would love to see projects that we can do together, perhaps interactions, seminars in terms of struggles that we are finding and to exchange ideas.”