For the Japanese lawmaker subjected to sexist taunts in the Tokyo city assembly last week, the most painful part of the incident was seeing the pleasure her colleagues took from the jeers.
“I heard comments that can only be described as insulting and disparaging to women,” Ayaka Shiomura said at a press conference in Tokyo yesterday. “What caused me the greatest pain was that the general feeling in the assembly hall seemed to be of great enjoyment.”
Shiomura emerged as a national figure in Japan after male colleagues in the Tokyo assembly barraged her with insults at an legislative session where she spoke about the need to aid infertile women and single mothers. “You are the one who should get married as soon as possible,” one assembly member said, while another shouted, “Can’t you even bear a child?”.
One of the lawmakers who was shouting the insults was from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, an embarrassment for a leader who has championed the cause of women. Abe has made boosting female employment and ensuring more women make it into management positions a central part of his economic policy in a country that needs more women to work to compensate for a shrinking population.
Abe has pledged incentives for companies and local and national governments to promote women to positions of leadership, as part of his new growth plan approved by the cabinet yesterday. The premier’s goal is to increase the number of women in managerial positions to 30 percent by 2020.
“This is very much a world dominated by men and I think it is this environment that gave rise to this incident,” she said. “It is an environment where men feel free to say whatever’s on their minds.”
Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, on June 23 criticized the jeering, which was initiated by LDP lawmaker Akihiro Suzuki and other unidentified legislators.
“Whatever the situation, sexist jeering must not be allowed,” Suga told reporters. “It is extremely regrettable from the point of view of the Abe cabinet, which is promoting a society where women can shine.”
Abe has yet to publicly comment on incident. Shiomura said she was sure Abe had an opinion on the matter and she would like to hear what he has to say. Abe offered an apology to Keiichiro Asao, leader of Shiomura’s Your Party, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported yesterday, without citing anyone.