TOKYO – Japan has for the first time appointed a woman as commander of a navy fleet, a spokesperson for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force confirmed to EFE on Wednesday, at a time when the government is considering increasing the female presence in the military.
Ryoko Azuma, 44, will lead the operations of Japan’s main escort division, a fleet of four vessels including the largest Japanese helicopter destroyer, the Izumo.
Azuma will have under her orders the fleet’s joint crew, a total of 1,000 sailors of whom only 30 are women.
The appointment of Commander Azuma was officialized at a ceremony held on Tuesday aboard the Izumo docked at Yokohama port, south of Tokyo, for maintenance.
Azuma downplayed the moment and when asked about the pressure the position entails, she said in a statement to EFE, “I cannot say that I do not feel pressure, but I will overcome the difficulties by presenting them as a personal challenge.”
According to Azuma, her gender has never been an obstacle in developing her military career. She added that rank is what matters as gender and age cannot limit professional growth.
Commander Azuma graduated from the National Defense Academy in 1996, a year when women were still prohibited from serving on warships in Japan.
Japan did not lift the veto on women on military vessels until 2008 and submarines continue to be crewed only by men.
The presence of women in the Japanese army remains low and only 6 percent of military personnel – 14,000 soldiers – are women, a figure that is far behind that of United States and other industrialized countries, where the average is between 10-15 percent, according to Japanese Defense Ministry data.
Tokyo has proposed to double the presence of women among troops in the coming years, at a time when it also seeks to boost women’s presence in different areas of work to address the lack of personnel created by a rapidly ageing population and low birth rate.