National / Politics

Female Your Party member interrupted by sexist heckles

Remarks fly in the face of Abe's push for women-friendly Japan

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly said Thursday she was hurt by sexist remarks made by male politicians during a session the previous day in which she was ridiculed for being unmarried and lacking children.

The remarks, allegedly uttered by members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, come at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to make corporate Japan more women-friendly.

The comments were made when assembly member Ayaka Shiomura of Your Party took the stage Wednesday to raise the issue of increasingly delayed marriage and childbirth among women in Tokyo.

Noting that more women are struggling to cope with pregnancy and child-rearing due to a lack of public support, Shiomura said the metropolitan government should beef up its efforts to make society more amenable to women.

As she was doing so, a man said, “before you make accusations like that, you should hurry and get married yourself.”

Shocked by the comment, Shiomura stopped in midsentence, managing only a wry smile as the assembly erupted in fits of male laughter.

“I grew sadder and sadder as I continued my questions,” she told reporters Thursday.

According to Shun Otokita — a Your Party-endorsed member who was present at the session — a second voice then chimed in with: “Hey, why don’t you give birth to a baby yourself?”

“Underlying such comments, I think, is their belief that a woman can only stand up and speak for (prospective mothers) after she has experienced childbirth herself. Without that experience, a woman has only half the human value that mothers have, they seem to imply,” he said, adding that those who made the remarks have yet to be tracked down.

After the session, Otokita and several other members went to speak to an LDP representative, suspecting the comments had come from that party and intending to protest the issue. But they were rebuffed after being told that no immediate action would be taken without clear evidence the remarks were made by LDP members.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has yet to identity the politicians who made the remarks. But the issue may be raised in an assemblywide meeting slated for next week, when they will have a chance to discuss whether to take further action.

Since no official record of the audience remarks exists, there are no set guidelines on how they should be dealt with, according to Yuki Fukui, a spokesman for the assembly’s secretariat.

Abe’s push to persuade companies to hire and promote businesswomen is a key part of the revamped “third arrow” of “Abenomics,” a package of stimulus steps and structural reform vows designed to halt deflation and boost Japan’s competitiveness.