Flak dooms handbook pushing motherhood

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

A government task force discussing measures to boost Japan’s low birthrate has scrapped an idea to give young women handbooks informing them of certain medical facts — including those pertaining to infertility — faced by some women in their late 30s.

The handbook, tentatively titled Inochi to Josei no Techo (Handbook on Life and Women), was to be given to young women and include details on a “suitable age for pregnancy” and giving birth.

Nonprofit women’s rights groups, including Tokyo-based Soshiren, were quick to criticize the original handbook idea, saying the task force was interfering with individual choices.

The handbook “violates women’s rights to make their own decisions,” Soshiren said in a statement released earlier this month, adding that the pamphlet gives the impression that women are primarily responsible for the nation’s sagging birthrate.

A Cabinet Office official told The Japan Times on Wednesday that while the handbook won’t take the originally planned format, the government will continue to work on measures to enlighten the public on pregnancy and giving birth.

Japan, which has seen its birthrate fall for years, has a graying population that has declined since 2008.

The birthrate hasn’t surpassed the 1.50 mark since 1995 and stood at 1.39 in 2011. The task force, working under state minister Masako Mori, is made up of medical doctors, governors and university professors.

In one of the panel’s session earlier this month, the team pointed out that many Japanese were uninformed about certain medical facts, including changes in fertility rates due to aging, compared with other developed countries.

The handbook was also to include a section for keeping a record of personal health conditions. However, the proposal was widely criticized by opponents. The handbook would have included “information that men should in fact be aware of,” Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada said Tuesday, criticizing its female-targeted naming.

Kada said the government should instead focus on creating materials that encourage and enlighten both sexes on the importance of jointly raising children.

Although the government panel retracted the initial handbook idea, it proposed Tuesday creating a study group to look into how best to educate the public on pregnancy and birth.