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Japan’s female politician bringing baby to council

Posted November. 25, 2017 08:34,   

Updated November. 25, 2017 08:55


A female member of a city council in Japan attended a council meeting with her baby only to be forced to exit, sparking major controversy across the island country. Yuta Ogata, a member of the Kumamoto city council, brought with her a seven-month-old son and took her seat at a regular meeting of the council on Wednesday, but had to leave in the face of protest by her colleague council members who claimed that seating in the council accompanied by a child constitutes violation of the rules. She came back to the council meeting after leaving the child on her acquaintance who was waiting outside the chamber, but Japanese society has been engulfed in intense controversy over whether it is appropriate to attend the council accompanied by a baby.

Since last year during pregnancy, Ogata had inquired the council’s secretariat whether she could attend council meetings with her baby. As the secretariat took an ambiguous stance, she boldly chose to attend the council meeting with her baby. “Childrearing has become a social issue, but it is being regarded as a personal matter at workplaces,” Ogata said with tears in her eyes soon after a plenary session. As a politician, she intentionally took the action in a bid to ring an alarm in Japanese society by making use of cases in foreign countries including Europe and Australia where council members are allowed to attend a meeting with a child.

Women are scarce in politics in Japan as much as in Korea. In Japan, women account for 9.3 percent of the seats at the House of Representatives, and take up 20.7 percent in the House of Councilors, as Japan ranks 165th among the 193 countries surveyed in 2017 by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Korea ranks 117th in the same survey. In an organization where males are dominant, it is impossible to create an environment conducive for pregnancy, childbirth, feeding and childrearing. In all countries where women take up larger portions of the seats in parliament including New Zealand and Australia, which rank 18th and 50th, respectively, female members are allowed to take care of their children in plenary meetings.

Some critics say that Ogata went too far by bringing her child to the council even though they understand that she intended to raise the issue with difficulties in childrearing. They say that taking a child to work is not a matter of “work life balance” but a matter of common sense and being considerate, and she should have taken into consideration cultural differences between the East and the West as well. If she had not been a politician, how would she have dared to bring her child to work? Nevertheless, the incident is helping spread the consensus that Japan, a country that is agonizing over its fast aging society, needs “revolutionary change in way of thinking” about childrearing. What would happen if a female lawmaker brought a child to the National Assembly in Korea? It is hard to even imagine.