Civic group demands Kumamoto assembly help child-rearing members after baby stir

A civic group has urged the Kumamoto city assembly in southwestern Japan to help with child-rearing members after an assemblywoman caused a stir by bringing her 7-month-old baby to the session hall.

The group, which aims to realize an inclusive society for both genders, asked the assembly to allow its members to take leave before and after childbirth and offer babysitter services so that they can leave their children during assembly sessions.

Yuka Ogata, the 42-year-old assemblywoman, received a written warning for obstructing the flow of a session after she took her baby with her into the hall on Nov 22.

Reiko Sato, an 81-year-old co-representative of the citizens group, said, “I hope the issue will have repercussions on society to make a change for the better.”

The assembly office said it will send the petition from the group to chairman Yoshitomo Sawada, who has expressed his intention to promote steps to facilitate female assembly members’ participation.

Ogata, a former U.N. worker who was first elected to the assembly in 2015, apologized for causing a 40-minute delay to the start of an assembly session but said she wanted to demonstrate that many people are struggling to juggle work and children, with childrearing viewed as “a private matter” in Japanese society.

The chairman at that time claimed she violated rules that limited entrance to the hall to assembly members, and Ogata was eventually persuaded to leave the baby with her friend.

She said she had been asking the assembly office whether she could bring her baby but having been unable to receive a positive reply, she decided to take him in with her.

Some countries allow lawmakers to bring their babies to parliament halls but opinions in Japan are divided.

The city assembly office received 285 views supporting the assemblywoman with some saying the restriction is an obstacle for women’s career achievement, but 191 opinions opposed her action, with some doubting whether an assembly member can fulfill her role with a baby.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has been trying to improve conditions for working women, especially after childbirth. But Japan ranks 114th out of 144 countries, one of the worst among industrialized nations, according to a report on global gender gaps released last month by the World Economic Forum.


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