The Nagoya Municipal Assembly has created a private day care room for one of its members with a 1-year-old son, the first such facility among governments in the Tokai region and a rarity in other parts of Japan as well.
“It has become easier for me to do my job and also breast-feed my child even when I have to bring him to the office,” said Misaki Hibi, 32, a member of the Democratic Party.
Hibi was elected to her first term in a by-election to take the seat of her husband, Kentaro, who died in November at age 35.
Usually she leaves her son, Takeru, with her parents-in-law who live nearby, but if they are not free she brings him to City Hall.
Hibi said the day care center in her neighborhood does not have any vacancies.
Until recently, she would bring her son to a large waiting room where all 17 Democratic Party assembly members have their desks, but she was always worried that he would disturb the others if he grows noisy.
The party decided to convert a small document-storage room into a day care facility and brought in a crib and toys.
“To create an environment which is friendly to women working and raising children, we decided to start small,” said Masaya Hattori, who heads the group of DP assembly members.
“It’s very helpful when I suddenly have to come to the office to deal with a petition or other matters. I can concentrate on my work without worrying (about my son),” Hibi said.
Mari Miura, a professor of political science at Tokyo’s Sophia University knowledgeable about the working environments of female assembly members, said she has never heard of a case in Japan where a room has been designated for mothers with young children.
“I hope others will view this as a successful example and follow suit,” Miura said.
The number of women in Japan’s political world is on the rise, but they still occupy only about 10 percent of the seats in local and prefectural assemblies. This is partly due to the harsh working environment faced by female politicians raising children, and experts have urged that the situation be improved and public awareness toward the issue raised.
According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, women comprised 12.9 percent of municipal assemblies and 9.9 percent of prefectural assemblies as of the end of last year.
Even on the national level, Japan ranks 164th out of 193 countries surveyed by the international organization Inter-Parliamentary Union in terms of the percentage of women in the Lower House, at 9.3 percent.
“It is difficult both physically and mentally to fulfill the role of a mother while working as an assembly member,” acknowledged Reika Kurata, 35, the mother of a 2-year-old girl who is serving her third term in the Nerima Ward Assembly in Tokyo.
Kurata currently leaves her daughter at a day care center, but in the past her mother would take a long-haul bus from Nagano Prefecture when the assembly is in session to look after the child in the ward office.
She is expecting her second child in October. Following a revision of the rules by the National Association of Chairpersons of City Councils two years ago, childbirth is now accepted as a valid reason for being absent from the Nerima Ward Assembly, and Kurata plans to take maternity leave from September.
However, she is still worried what voters might think if she takes a few months off.
“While it is important for female assembly members to be active and recognized by society, it is also necessary to improve the environment to encourage women to work and to change the voters’ way of thinking,” Miura said.
She also said Japan should adopt a quota system introduced by more than 100 assemblies worldwide that a certain percentage of legislatures or candidates must be women.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. It is appearing on Wednesday this week because Tuesday was a press holiday. The original article was published July 9.