National | CABINET INTERVIEW

FUNDING KEY TO HIGHER BIRTHRATE

Inoguchi wants more money for kids

by Akemi Nakamura

improving

News photo
Kuniko Inoguchi
"The Japanese public has come to recognize the importance of – the low birthrate, so (the government) needs to reinforce measures” to tackle the problem, Kuniko Inoguchi, 53, a former professor of international politics at Sophia University, said in an interview Wednesday. “If the birthrate keeps falling, we will not be able to support our aging society.”

Japan’s total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime — dropped to 1.29 in 2004, marking an all-time low for the fourth consecutive year, with the number of babies born in the year standing at 1.11 million.

The government spent 3.2 trillion yen in fiscal 2002 on child-rearing benefits and for the operation of day-care centers, which accounted for only 3.8 percent of the 83.6 trillion yen allocated in the budget for social security benefits, according to the Cabinet Office.

About 70 percent of that money was allocated to support for the elderly, including pension payments and health-care costs, the Cabinet Office said.

Inoguchi, who has two daughters, said Japan can learn from countries like France and Sweden, which have successfully increased their birthrates by offering adequate financial support to families with small children and providing a range of child-care services.

“Japan’s birthrate is falling faster than what the government had expected. There is no quick remedy for the problem,” she said. “Political leadership is necessary to find the reasons for the low birthrate and take effective measures.”

Inoguchi, who served as Japan’s envoy to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva for two years from April 2002, was elected to her first Diet term in the Sept. 11 House of Representatives election. She was the only surprise appointment in the new Cabinet announced Monday.

She has become well-known for her bright outfits.

She drew the media’s attention when she appeared in a puffy blue dress at the Cabinet confirmation ceremony at the Imperial Palace.

“There was a dress code (for the ceremony), so I picked a dress from my closet that would be suitable to the occasion,” said Inoguchi, done up in a pink suit for the interview, adding that she always wears “shobu-fuku” power clothes for official business to show she is ready to take on difficult challenges.

On the subject of gender equality, the new minister said she will ask the private sector to promote equal employment and promotions in the workplace.

“The government is trying to achieve the goal of increasing the percentage of women in leadership posts (in all sectors) to 30 percent by 2020,” she said, adding the private sector should use capable women to become more globally competitive.

According to the government, only 10.1 percent of all managerial posts in Japan were held by women in 2004 and only 11.6 percent of researchers were female. Those figures are only a 1 percentage point improvement from 2000.

Inoguchi is expected to revise the gender equality basic plan by the end of March.

The plan, drawn up in 2000, is aimed at eliminating discrimination between the sexes, including changing the view that men work while women are responsible for housekeeping and child-rearing.

While several conservative members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party reportedly support this traditional view, Inoguchi said she is confident her party will support her as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other LDP members understand the importance of gender equality.