Japanese politicians force colleague with baby to leave chamber

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Yuka Ogata and her infant son in the chamber of Kumamoto municipal assembly. Photograph: The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Imag

Weeks after Ivanka Trump lauded Japan’s progress on women’s participation in the workforce, a female politician was forced to leave the chamber after her colleagues objected to the presence of her seven-month-old child.

Yuka Ogata had taken her son to a session of the Kumamoto municipal assembly on Wednesday to highlight the difficulties many Japanese parents – particularly women – face juggling their careers with raising children, amid an acute shortage of nursery places.

Ogata had taken her seat shortly before the start of the session when she was approached by the assembly chairman, Yoshitomo Sawada, and secretariat staff who demanded to know why she had brought along her son.

In a photograph of the incident, the infant is in his mother’s arms, apparently sucking his thumb as Ogata responds to Sawada and his colleagues.

Their conversation lasted several minutes until Sawada escorted Ogata and her son to his office, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Ogata relented and attended the delayed session alone after leaving her son in the care of a friend.

Sawada apologised for the delay, but an assembly member was reportedly heard saying: “You’re not the one who needs to be apologising.”

The Asahi reported that although there is no rule against assembly members being accompanied by a young child, Ogata’s colleagues insisted he was a visitor. According to assembly regulations, visitors must sit in the public gallery.

Ogata’s experience has focused attention on the daily reality faced by many working mothers in Japan amid a rise in the number of women entering the workforce.

The number of children on waiting lists for state-funded daycare has risen for the third year in a row, figures released in September showed, raising doubts over government plans to provide a place for every child by April 2020.

Sharing a stage with Trump at the World Assembly for Women earlier this month, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, lauded his record on getting more women into the workplace and improving childcare provision, as part of the “womenomics” initiative he launched five years ago.

The number of Japanese women in managerial positions has doubled over the past five years – albeit from a very low base – but the episode involving Ogata calls into question Abe’s claims that the country’s male-dominated work culture is becoming more inclusive.

The treatment of women in the Japanese workplace received widespread attention in 2014 after male members of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly shouted sexist abuse at an assemblywoman as she questioned the capital’s commitment to helping pregnant women and young mothers.

Ogata, who was educated in the US and previously worked for the United Nations, said she had been forced to act after a lack of progress in talks with the assembly secretariat about bringing her son to work.

Secretariat staff said Ogata had not informed the office that she intended to bring him to the chamber on Wednesday, but added that they would reconsider their position in light of the row.

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