• Kyodo, Staff Report

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As the ranks of male day care workers swell, the city of Chiba has moved to ensure more acceptance of men in the sector amid concerns from some parents about issues such as changing baby girls’ diapers and clothes.

The city in January drafted a plan to create a better working environment for male day care workers. However, the move prompted mixed reactions on Chiba Mayor Toshihito Kumagai’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

“I’m rooting for male day care workers and hope that they won’t be discouraged by biased views,” said one post. But another said, “I’m worried about possible sex crimes.”

As of last April, there were 50 male day care workers, or 7 percent of the local workforce, working full-time in the city. Of those, 42 have worked nine years or less.

“It’s good to have male workers because the job requires physical strength,” said Eriko Kawano, principal of a city-run day care facility. “Fathers may also feel more comfortable talking to them.”

As part of its plan, the city is aiming to boost the number of male day care center principals to five in 10 years. It also plans to hire two or more male workers per facility and create bathrooms and locker rooms for men.

“We want to appeal to male students aspiring to become day care workers,” said a Chiba official. “And if our male day care workers work energetically, this will encourage dads to take a greater role in bringing up their children.”

Kaku Sechiyama, a professor on gender equality at the University of Tokyo who runs a day care center on campus, called Chiba’s plan “epoch-making.”

“If there aren’t any veteran workers of the same gender,” young people entering the sector may be concerned they don’t have any role models, said Sechiyama. “What Chiba is doing is affirmative action for men.”

But Chiba Mayor Kumagai is well aware the city’s action won’t sit well with all parents.

When he spoke with male day care workers last April, one told him that he was told not to change girls’ diapers and clothes because parents would complain.

But under the Chiba program, male workers, like their female peers, will take care of children regardless of gender.

“Changing clothes and diapers is an important part of their work to check on a child’s state of health,” said Kumagai. “Day care workers are doing it as part of their work and they are doing so with a number of other workers.”

Male workers, meanwhile, are perplexed by the entire debate.

“I know there are a lot of opinions but it feels odd that people are only focusing on male workers changing clothes,” said a 27-year-old male worker at a Chiba city day care center.

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