Mother’s Day belies realities

Mother’s Day last Sunday was celebrated with flowers, cards and perhaps a day off from cooking and housework for most mothers, but overall, Japanese mothers had perhaps less to celebrate.

A survey by the international charity Save the Children ranked the national condition for Japanese mothers as 32nd in the world, the worst among the Group of Seven industrialized nations.

The relatively low position of Japan’s mothers was based on combined ratings of maternal health and children’s well-being, where Japan’s condition was relatively good, together with educational, economic and political status, where Japanese mothers ranked much lower than in other developed countries.

Japan is not suffering the same type of humanitarian crises that have affected mothers in countries like Syria, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan or the Philippines. There, mothers bear the brunt of damage from wars, political upheavals and natural disasters. They must shield their children from the worst of the disasters around them. Japan’s problem, by contrast, is the inability to remove persistent systemic problems in the economic and political spheres.

In all of the countries ranked best for mothers, the government offers considerable assistance to women with children. Japan has already slipped below the level of emerging economies with gross national income levels below Japan’s.

Despite lower income levels, countries such as Slovenia, Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic, all of which were ranked higher than Japan, manage to support mothers much better than Japan does. These countries know that mothers have the largest impact on the nation’s children and deserve more than flowers and cards once a year. They deserve greater levels of participation in workplaces, better access to child care, and a high degree of respect for the important work they do.

In Japan, some areas for support are already in place. Mothers and young children do not die from preventable causes at the levels seen in other countries. Japan also offers mothers a reasonably stable environment, without fear of armed conflict, threat of forced emigration or lack of aid after a natural disaster.

However, Japan has failed to address the deeper problems that confront mothers, and women in general. Japan considers itself one of the most advanced countries in Asia in most regards, and yet conditions for mothers are still far below levels in Europe and even Singapore and South Korea, according to the survey.

The government has shown its intentions to bring women into the economy and to increase child care facilities, but the results have yet to show up in actual conditions of mothers’ lives. Perhaps next year, after the cards and flowers, the day could be spent making realistic progress at improving conditions for Japanese mothers.