Sexist heckling in the Tokyo assembly by at least one member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party underscores why the government must press ahead with measures to help Japanese women thrive, said one of the party’s top executives.
“The amount of criticism from around the world could trigger a change in the attitudes of many male lawmakers,” Sanae Takaichi, the first woman to serve as the LDP’s policy chief, said of the incident in an interview with Bloomberg on June 25. “This provides all the more reason for pushing on with policies on women.”
Abe has flagged measures to help women sustain careers while raising a family in a bid to bolster the workforce, which is forecast to shrink by 42 percent by 2060 in the world’s most-indebted economy as the population ages. Japan was ranked 90 out of 148 in female workplace participation in the World Economic Forum’s 2013-2014 Global Competitiveness report.
On June 18 Tokyo metropolitan assembly members shouted “you are the one who should get married as soon as possible” and “can’t you even bear a child?” while lawmaker Ayaka Shiomura was asking a question about childbirth policies. LDP member Akihiro Suzuki first denied being one of the harassers, then later came forward and publicly apologized.
Abe met with business leaders on June 24 and urged them to introduce policies to help them meet his target of having women in 30 percent of leadership positions by 2020. In a growth strategy document released the same day, the government pledged to consider a new law helping to promote working women.
Takaichi, 53, served as minister in charge of tackling the falling birth rate in Abe’s first cabinet. She was also among those who nominated him for party leader in 2012, leading to his unexpected come-back after he resigned in 2007 while suffering from an intestinal disorder.
She experienced heckling in the national parliament after she became a lawmaker in 1993, she said. “It certainly wasn’t anything you could take as a compliment,” she said. “It used to be much worse.”
The daughter of a working mother, now married to a fellow lawmaker, Takaichi said that while serving in the cabinet she met resistance from within the LDP to her plans to relax labor regulations to help women work from home while their children are small.
“There were a lot of conservative male LDP lawmakers who were opposed to women working and the policy I was working on ended in failure,” she said. The changes have been approved since she took up her current post. “I think attitudes are changing.”