Yanagisawa sexist remark draws Abe ire

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a warning Monday to health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa about his “inappropriate remark” comparing women to “child-bearing machines,” while female lawmakers in the opposition camp urged him to step down over the statement.

Yanagisawa made the remark in a speech Saturday on the declining birthrate and the social welfare and pension system.

“I believe (Yanagisawa’s) statement was inappropriate and warned the minister to ensure that there are no misunderstandings in the future,” Abe said during a plenary session of the Lower House.

“Giving birth and raising children is a noble occupation and the love that the mother has for her child is irreplaceable,” the prime minister said. “Together with the public, I would like reconfirm the magnificence of family and of housework.”

At the same time, Abe appeared to defend Yanagisawa when he told reporters that he wants the minister to do his best in his current duty.

Asked if anyone who made such a remark is qualified as health minister, Abe said, “I heard he said he didn’t mean it. I wouldn’t appoint someone to the Cabinet if he meant such a thing.”

Opposition parties claimed Yanagisawa is not qualified to be the minister in charge of reversing the decline in the country’s birthrate.

“Women are not machines to give birth to children,” said Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the small opposition Social Democratic Party. “(Yanagisawa’s) statement is horrible and unforgivable.”

All 28 female Diet members of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party and the SDP handed a letter to Yanagisawa urging him to resign.

Fukushima added that the opposition lawmakers contacted most of the female Diet members of the ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, but they refused to sign the letter.

Amid the outcry, Yanagisawa apologized Monday and told reporters: “I used that expression to make it easier to explain about population projections. It was really inappropriate.”

However, Yanagisawa said he has no intention to resign as health, labor and welfare minister.

The timing of the furor was unfortunate for the government, which said Monday it will set up a new council to discuss ways to ease the graying of society, which is expected to intensify after 2030.

The council, chaired by Shiozaki and consisting of eight other ministers, including Yanagisawa, and seven experts, will hold its first meeting in early February and make a report in June. The top government spokesman said it is hoped Yanagisawa will do his best as a key member of the new panel.

In his speech Saturday in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Yanagisawa, 71, said: “The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of child-bearing machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head.”

Later in the speech, he said it may have not been appropriate to call women machines. The fertility rate, or the average number of children a women delivers in a lifetime, fell to record low 1.26 in 2005. According to experts, factors aggravating the situation include employment insecurity, long working hours and poor public aid for child-rearing.

The fertility rate hit a high of 4.54 in 1947 but has fallen below the key threshold of 2.00 since 1975 and has stayed in a downtrend. It has marked a new low every year since 2001 and the population declined in 2005 for the first time on record. Population data have been kept since 1899.

Information from Kyodo added

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