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Empowerment key in lifting birthrate: U.N.

Kyodo

Japan needs to empower females in the workplace and promote male participation in child-rearing in order to address its falling birthrate, the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said.

“If they (women), for instance, leave to go and have a baby, they don’t lose promotion, they don’t lose anything, and then when they come back, they can also look after their children whilst they are working, and then men’s participation in that also tends to ensure that you facilitate growth in population,” Babatunde Osotimehin, the UNFPA’s executive director, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

He added that it was important for women’s workplaces to have child care facilities so they can continue working after giving birth and do not lose opportunities to advance their careers.

In this regard, Osotimehin, a former Nigerian health minister, urged the government and private sector to work together.

“What we urge governments to do in cooperation with the private sector and employers is to provide and promote the means to facilitate compatibility between labor force participation and parenthood so that women can have a career and be assured of career progression,” he said.

The physician and public health expert was in the Netherlands attending a conference in Noordwijk ahead of World Population Day on Thursday.

While the government should implement more programs and policies, it should also encourage the private sector to follow suit so that “a societywide movement” can take place, he noted.

Osotimehin also pointed to a European study indicating that falling birthrates could be slowed by promoting gender equality and close family and labor policies so that women “feel they are not being discriminated against” if they have children.

Another important factor is the issue of male participation, which has progressed a long way in some countries, including Denmark, Sweden and France, and more recently in Britain.

“We have seen that in parts of the world where men have been involved with paternity leaves and getting involved with raising children, we have been able to increase the birthrates,” he explained.