Once the advertising displays from last Sunday’s Mother’s Day were taken down, the grim reality of being a mother in Japan returned. Over the last year, Japan slipped a rank in the annual Mothers’ Index ranking of best and worst places to be a mother, according to the international nongovernmental organization, Save the Children.
Japan ranked toward the bottom of developed countries — merely 31st of 176 countries.
Though mothers are culturally revered in Japan, they have lower levels of education, political participation and income than in most other developed countries.
The ratio of female to male income is just 45 percent, the lowest among developed countries examined in the index. That connects in part to the fewer years of formal schooling Japanese women have than women from countries of equal economic status.
That means Japanese mothers, whether they work inside or outside the home, have less education and less income than any other developed country in the world.
The discrepancy between Japan’s economic status and the status of Japanese mothers is vast.
Japan is also relatively low in pre-primary enrollment, coming in somewhere in the middle of developed countries. Most other countries give longer maternity leave than Japan’s average 14 weeks and pay more than Japan’s 67 percent of wages to women while they care for their newborn infants.
The medical care in Japan is better than in many countries, but the support by companies and the central government should be sufficient to ensure that mothers have sufficient financial support during the first months after childbirth as well as a comfortable return to the workplace when they are ready.
Many Japanese mothers may also have needed more planning for their parenthood. The percentage of women using modern contraception in Japan is surprisingly low. Japan ranks fifth from the bottom of the top 43 developed countries.
Better access, education and expectations about using contraception would allow women to control their pregnancies and plan the economic security of their families.
Every day, 800 women around the world die during pregnancy or childbirth. Japan has overcome the worst of those kinds of problems, but still has a long way to go before the country can truly take pride in the conditions for its mothers. Japan, to its credit, remains the 10th-biggest donor for the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health program of the United Nations around the world, but much remains to be done at home, too.
Because mothers are so important in the world, the annual report on mothers is really a report on the status of every country in the world. Japan should heed the results of the report and work to make Mother’s Day a real cause for celebration.