A Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker apologized on Monday for shouting a sexist remark last week at a female colleague from Your Party during a plenary session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.
Akihiro Suzuki, 51, apologized at a news conference at City Hall five days after the sexist taunting incident, which allegedly involved at least one other male lawmaker.
“I apologize from the bottom of my heart for inflicting heavy heartache and causing trouble to assembly member fellow lawmaker Ayaka Shiomura, the assembly and the public, caused by my remark, ‘Why don’t you get married soon?’ ” the nationalist lawmaker said.
Suzuki, part of a cadre of like-minded nationalists who landed on the Senkaku Islands in 2012, elicited jeers and laughter from his male colleagues in the assembly that have raised doubts about the LDP’s commitment to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stated policy of promoting women in the workplace.
Abe is also president of the LDP.
The Tokyo assembly’s evident sexism has done nothing to burnish the image of the capital as it gears up to host the 2020 Olympics.
Suzuki acknowledged the remark was inconsiderate.
“I uttered the remark with a philosophy that I’d like people to get married soon amid the falling birthrate and delayed marriage,” he claimed. “I profoundly regret my lack of consideration for people who find it hard to get married even though they hope to do so,” he said, adding that he didn’t intend to defame Shiomura.
The married father of three, who represents Ota Ward, said he should have come clean sooner. He said he has left the LDP to take responsibility for the incident but repeatedly insisted that he would not quit the legislature.
Earlier Monday, Suzuki denied making the remark when asked by reporters. His own website claims he stands behind the policy of “realizing a society with a better working environment for women” and promotes the idea of work-life balance and reflecting the voices of Tokyo women in the city’s politics.
Suzuki also purports to want to improve support for families with children by creating more small child care centers.
Shiomura, a member of Your Party, said her fellow lawmakers yelled out remarks like “You should give birth first” and “Can’t you give birth to a baby?” while she was raising questions about policies related to the nation’s declining birth rate and other demographic problems.
Minoru Morozumi, secretary-general of Your Party’s contingent in the assembly, told reporters later Monday that his party will call on the other individuals involved in the sexist jeers to come forward as well.
“If that turns out to be difficult, we will urge other parties at the metropolitan assembly to conduct an investigation to identify who made those remarks,” he said.
He also said the party will propose setting up a panel to discuss parliamentary reform in the wake of the incident.
Before his news conference, Suzuki apologized in person to Shiomura at the metropolitan assembly building.
“I feel it marked an end to the incident after (Suzuki) admitted it,” Shiomura said after the meeting with Suzuki. “For the past couple of days, I feared it would turn out such a remark wasn’t uttered.”
Shiomura said she asked Suzuki to help her find out who else was involved in the sexist jeers.
Earlier on the day, Osamu Yoshiwara, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party’s contingent in the assembly, said Suzuki came to Yoshiwara in the morning to admit he was responsible for one of the remarks.
The heckling drew media attention at home and abroad, to say nothing of criticism.
“Marriage and childbirth are matters for each individual, and these heckles are sexual harassment based on a conscious desire to discriminate against women, and they are insulting to the Assembly member herself (Shiomura) and to all women,” the Japan Federation of Women’s Organizations said in a statement issued Saturday.
The heckling shows that “the idea of gender equality has not spread to the people of Japan, and the discrimination against women is still deeply rooted,” said Emiko Munakata, head of Equal Net Sendai.
Nevertheless, Munakata, a member of a government gender equality panel, found a silver lining. She said the heavy media coverage of the incident has left the impression that sex discrimination will no longer be swept under the carpet.
In 2012, Suzuki drew attention by landing on one of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands to reinforce Japan’s control of the chain, which is also claimed by China and Taiwan. He entered the Tokyo assembly by winning a replacement election in 2007.
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