Only a few months after a Tokyo lawmaker was heckled by her male colleagues in a sexist incident that made headlines around the world, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly rekindled the controversy this week as another politician put his foot in his mouth.
“What was in the air was the kind of talk like, ‘Why don’t you get married?’ I would also make that suggestion in private circumstances,” Liberal Democratic Party Assemblyman Zenji Nojima said while speaking to reporters Tuesday in describing the sexist heckling of Your Party member Ayaka Shiomura at the assembly in June.
“The problem was that such a remark was made to an individual speaker in a public setting,” said Nojima, 65.
On June 18, Shiomura was heckled with such jeers as “You should hurry and get married yourself” and “Are you not able to have a baby?” as she addressed the assembly about the capital’s child-rearing policy.
Akihiro Suzuki, an assemblyman from the LDP, admitted on June 23 that he was the one who shouted “Why don’t you get married soon?” He apologized publicly to Shiomura and subsequently left the LDP over the incident.
Nojima’s remarks on Tuesday came after he was appointed to head a bipartisan league in the assembly tasked with promoting gender equality. The group, which had been inactive for 5½ years, resumed its meetings to draft preventive measures against the heckling endured by Shiomura.
Nojima apologized on Wednesday for stating his opinion on the marriage remark, but rebuffed calls to step down as chairman of the bipartisan gender-equality group.
“I’m extremely sorry for expressing my personal opinion in my official capacity as the chairman of the league,” Nojima said.
“I consider myself the best qualified individual” to head the league, he added.
However, experts have been quick to call for Nojima to relinquish the position.
Tomomi Shibuya, a Tokyo Keizai University associate professor whose research includes gender studies, said Thursday that Nojima isn’t suitable to lead it.
He “should resign from the post right now. He doesn’t have a track record on the promotion of gender equality and doesn’t understand the nature of the incident involving sexist remarks,” Shibuya said.
She also said it isn’t appropriate to intervene in the personal lives of people, in public or private.
Hiroshi Toki, a Daito Bunka University law professor who studies metropolitan government affairs, said Thursday that things have not changed since the heckling incident in June.
“Lawmakers with an outdated mind-set still command many of its seats,” Toki said, warning that similar incidents will recur at the metropolitan assembly unless lawmakers change the way they think.
As for Shiomura, she told reporters that Nojima’s remarks were unfortunate, given the public’s growing sensitivity to sexist politicians.
“It’s a shame, since society has come to perceive remarks taken as sexual harassment as wrong over the past several months, whether they were uttered in private or not,” she said.
To reform the metropolitan assembly, Shibuya, of Tokyo Keizai University, suggested that all lawmakers take courses on gender equality and human rights. She also said the assembly should introduce a “quota system” to increase the number of female lawmakers.
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