The plight of Japan’s working women is a subject that often pops up in the media. Female politicians and company executives voice the opinion that it would be good to harness the power of women in Japan, and that the garasu no tenjō (ガラスの天井, glass ceiling) needs to be smashed. But meanwhile, the majority of both men and women still seem to support the idea that a mother’s place is in the home.

But when the silent majority gets vocal, its screams can often be heard on the Internet. A remarkable example is a Shukan Gendai weekly magazine article (Aug. 31) by female novelist Ayako Sono, titled, “Watashi no iwakan: Nandemo kaisha no seinisuru amattareta joshi shain tachi e” (「私の違和感」何でも会社のせいにする甘ったれた女子社員たちへ, “My feeling of discomfort: dedicated to spoiled female workers who blame everything on their company”).

In the article, Sono, 82, a member of the Education Rebuilding Implementation Council under the prime minister’s office, said women should quit work when they give birth. Mothers often have to leave the office early to attend their baby, for example when it has a fever, but not every company is happy to let them go home, she said in the article.

“Therefore, women should leave their company when they have babies and kosodate suru (子育てする, raise their children) for some years. This will work if society makes it possible for them to saishūshoku suru (再就職する, get a job again) after their children get older,” Sono was quoted as saying.

Sono also said sankyu (産休, maternity leave) is meiwaku senban (迷惑千万, causes a lot of trouble) for companies because they cannot easily hire a new person for a position that will be vacated by someone who will later come back from maternity leave. In the end, people in the same department have to cover for the person taking leave.

Konna kotodewa josei wo sekinin aru posuto ni oku wakeni ikanainomo touzen deshō” (「こんなことでは、女性を責任あるポストに置くわけにいかないのも当然でしょう」”In such situations, it is understandable that companies cannot put women in positions of responsibility”), Sono said in the article.

She also said the problem with an increasing number of taiki jidō (待機児童, children waiting to be accepted in nursery schools) is ijōda (異常だ, abnormal) because children should be raised at home.

“It is better to have more nursery schools. But parents should spend as much time with their children as possible,” she said.

Sono’s article drew lots of comments.

Birei Kin, a female critic who has authored books on Japanese lifestyle and philosophy, supported Sono. Kin was quoted by Josei Seven weekly magazine as saying, “I don’t believe everything (Sono) says is correct. But I believe it is significant that such kageki na (過激な, radical) mondai teiki (問題提起, problems are posed).”

There must be many amattarete inai josei (甘ったれていない女性, women who are not spoiled), but meanwhile, “Kenri bakkari shuchō suru josei ga fueteiru nowa jijitsu” (「権利ばっかり主張する女性が増えているのは事実」”It is true that an increasing number of women only claim their rights (and hardly fulfill their duties),” she said.

In a counter-argument, among many others, Human Rights Now Secretary General Kazuko Ito wrote in the contributor-essay section of Yahoo News an article titled, ” ‘Quit if you give birth’: Why has it not become a problem that Shukan Gendai published Ayako Sono’s essay recommending rōkihō ihan (労基法違反, abbreviation of rōdō kijun hō ihan, or violation of the Labor Standards Act)?”

In a harsh criticism, Ito said she was surprised by Sono’s article. The sankyū seido (産休制度, maternity leave system) is at the core of worker protection and is clearly stipulated in the Labor Standards Act’s Article 65. It is a basic element of worker protection and the minimum required standard, Ito said. Violating Article 65 can result in imprisonment and a fine.

The right to maternity leave is a basic right, as is a women’s right to work. There is no room to question it internationally, she said.

“I never thought anyone would attack kihonteki jinken (基本的人権, basic human rights) and minimum-requirement workers’ right like this,” she said.

Ito recognizes various conflicts between working mothers and companies. But the solution to it “should never begin with denying a worker’s right. It should only begin with discussing constructive measures under the assumption that the right will be protected,” she said.

The weekly magazine Aera quoted female office workers who questioned Sono’s remark that women should reenter the workforce after the children get older.

One of them doubted that companies can easily find someone to fill the position of a worker who has worked for the same company for 10 years.

“Even ikukyū sannen (育休3年, three-year child-care leave), which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed, is unrealistic. (Sono) does not know how hard it is to find a job a few years after losing a job,” the woman was quoted as saying.

One of the highlights of Abe’s so-called Abenomics policy is to make more use of the female workforce. But does Abe realize that not all women have the same needs? Some quit work to spend time with their children, and others have no choice but to work because their husband’s income is insufficient. Some want to work hard to climb the corporate ladder, while others want to work without aiming high.

Abe and his minions, both male and female, may think they have come up with the necessary measures to make as many women happy as possible. But this could prove difficult; as the Japanese saying goes, onna no teki wa onna (女の敵は女, women’s enemies are women).

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