--The Asahi Shimbun, March 13
EDITORIAL: Take a close look at reality before touting ‘women’s active roles’
One anonymous blog has underscored the serious issue of children on waiting lists for nursery schools, along with the lack of understanding on the part of political leaders.
Titled “Hoikuen Ochita Nihon Shine!!!” (My kid was rejected by a nursery school. Go to hell, Japan!!!), the blog was posted in mid-February by a mother whose child had failed to gain admission into a nursery school.
She used harsh language to vent her anger, saying things such as, “What about a ‘society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged?’” and "I’ll have to quit my job.”
A “society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged” is one of the key slogans of the Abe administration.
When an opposition lawmaker raised the subject during Diet debate, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited the anonymity of the posting in replying to her and said, “I have no way to confirm the story, including whether it really took place.”
Lawmakers of the ruling bloc heckled the opposition lawmaker, with one shouting, “Bring the one who wrote it!”
Members of the public who shared similar problems and anxieties reacted furiously to these verbal exchanges. They staged protests in front of the Diet building and collected signatures for a petition calling for a more extensive child-care system.
The government and the ruling parties were taken aback by the development, and began hastily discussing new measures for reducing the number of children on waiting lists--so goes, in brief, the story to date.
The response of political leaders has been particularly poor. While one ruling Liberal Democratic Party official has stated that the initial response was wrong, the story is much more than that of a “wrong” reaction. One has to say that a lack of understanding of how serious the current situation is has come to light.
The question of children on waiting lists is posing a serious problem for every household facing it, as mothers in some families are eager to stay in their current jobs, whereas other families need dual incomes to maintain their standards of living. The blog caught on with a broad audience, and many citizens lashed out against the administration, probably out of a strong resentment of the issue that has failed to improve over the years.
The government and the ruling parties should take that squarely to heart.
Abe has formulated such slogans as “women’s active roles” and a “society where all women shine.” One has to ask, however, if there really is an environment for making that happen. The dearth of child-care services is not the only factor that is keeping women from playing “active roles.”
The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued a recommendation earlier this month to the Japanese government.
The unflattering document, which said, “The committee’s previous recommendations have not been fully implemented,” once again urged Tokyo, among other things, to develop legal measures for banning and preventing discrimination in employment and to increase the number of women in decision-making positions, such as lawmakers and corporate workers in senior management posts.
Japan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1985. The Basic Law for Gender-Equal Society took effect in 1999. More women are working, but wage gaps between men and women are continuing to widen, in part because many female workers are employed on a nonregular basis.
Men’s participation in child care and in nursing care for the elderly is still low, and there remains a deep-rooted perception among the public that men and women are supposed to assume different roles. The latest Gender Gap Index report of the World Economic Forum put Japan in 101st place, in the lower rung of the ranking, as usual.
Political leaders should first look squarely at reality if they are to ever talk of “women’s active roles.”