Tokyo (CNN)Despite years of promising to tackle Japan's yawning gender-gap, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week appeared to take a step backwards, halving the number of women in his cabinet from two to one.
Japan's Abe claims lone woman in his cabinet worth 'two or three'
But don't worry, he told reporters, Satsuki Katayama -- who is in a much more junior role than her predecessors -- could do the work of "two or three" women.
The cabinet reshuffle, which saw the country's most senior female official, Seiko Noda, leave government entirely, was greeted with disappointment by many observers, who said it highlighted how Abe's actions rarely match his rhetoric on the issue.
Noda, who had been a leading advocate of improving gender representation in politics, said it was "very worrying that the number of female ministers has decreased from three down to one in the last three reshuffles."
Her role as interior minister now falls to a man, but the gender equality portfolio passes to Katayama. She had a rough introduction to her new role, when she was forced to rush out and buy a new outfit for a photo call, after male colleagues reportedly complained about her original choices.
Katayama's office did not respond to a request for comment about the issue or the cabinet reshuffle.
Japan has struggled for decades with the gender pay gap and issues of female representation in politics.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, more than 90% of Japanese lawmakers are men, and the country ranked 163 out of 190 in its latest report on women in politics.
Abe has promised to tackle this issue and his government still lists women's empowerment as a major priority. In 2013, he described women as the country's "most underutilized resource," and vowed to improve gender representation and closing gaps in the workforce with "womenomics."
At a press conference Wednesday, acknowledging the lack of representation within his own cabinet, Abe said "the society in which women can have active roles has just started in Japan."
"I believe that more and more (female) talents who can make it into the cabinet will see advancement now," he added.
But these comments will ring hollow to many critics who point to Abe's wealth of opportunity -- he's on course to be the country's longest-ever serving prime minister -- to promote change.
While more women have joined the workforce, there remains a disparity in the type of work don