Working moms in Japanese politics juggle hectic life, aided by outside support

Kyodo

Being a politician is taxing enough. But juggling that job and being a mom is hectic, to say the least.

As the government takes various measures to encourage more women to work, the realm of politics has yet to become a friendly environment for working moms.

The story of Ryoko Fujita, a Tokyo Metropolitan Assemblywoman with three sons, apparently says it all.

Fujita, 43, starts her day at 4 a.m., checking her email and creating documents while her family is still asleep.

She and her 48-year-old husband, Toshiro, share the housework, with her taking care of the laundry and Toshiro, a hospital clerk, in charge of breakfast and taking the children to day care.

The couple have a 7-year-old son in the first grade and two younger sons ages 3 and 5. Dinner is made courtesy of Fujita’s 68-year-old mother, who lives in the neighborhood.

Fujita, a member of the Japanese Communist Party, at times takes to the streets to make speeches.

One day in September, she delivered a speech to passers-by in front of a train station at 7 a.m., calling for a reduction in national health insurance premiums to make it easier for people to go to the hospital. It’s a routine she conducts twice a week.

The health and welfare committee she belongs to holds discussions from 1 p.m. that can sometimes last until around 11 p.m. She is particularly busy when preparing her questions, gathering information from people involved and finding the relevant statistics and examples to build her case.

At times, depending on how long it takes to coordinate with the relevant offices, she doesn’t get home until 2 a.m. On top of that, she holds gatherings of supporters to explain her assembly activities and stumps for fellow members during election campaigns. Working on weekends is also the norm.

“This is a job I cannot take on without the support of people around me. I am able to continue because I am blessed with having a husband and mother who help out,” Fujita said.

Although Fujita’s husband said he didn’t expect his wife to return home late every day and be so busy, he stands by her decision.

After having worked as a nurse for more than 20 years, Fujita entered the world of politics in the hope of building a better society. But she feels that female politicians are unlikely to increase unless the country’s long-entrenched tradition of working long hours and late into the night changes.

Asked if she has any qualms about balancing work and raising her children, she said she tries to find quality time during her busy schedule by, for example, spending half a day with her family each week and taking her children to a nearby park whenever she can.

“It’s not easy to go on an outing. But what is important is not the money we spend or where we went,” she said, referring to the simple moments of joy with her loved ones.

A World Economic Forum report on the global gender gap, released on Nov. 2, found that of the 144 countries gauged, Japan ranked 114, partly due to its smaller ratio of female legislators and Cabinet members. This makes Japan the worst-ranked on this issue among the Group of Seven industrialized countries.

Kumiko Yuki, a 40-year-old Liberal Democratic Party politician in the Minato Ward Assembly, has a different story to tell.

With two sons, ages 1 and 3, Yuki has no relatives nearby to depend on, relying on day care and baby-sitters.

Yuki is known to be the ward’s first assembly member to give birth.

“I had my workload reduced while I was pregnant, but I was worried that I might lose in the next election,” she recalled.

At the same time, the assembly’s support and understanding regarding child-rearing increased after she gave birth.

Demonstrating one of the changes, the assembly shortened its hours for plenary sessions by deciding to wrap them up at around 5 p.m. instead of around 8 p.m.

“By having a child myself, I became more passionate about changing the policies on child-rearing. I want to draw on my experience,” she said.