Japan council bans ‘non-members’ from meetings after politician brings baby to work

Japanese politician Yuka Ogata had intended to change old fashioned attitudes towards working mothers when she brought her baby to a local council meeting last year.

But the move appears to have backfired – at least in her own workplace –  after members of the Kumamoto Municipal Assembly this week approved a proposal to tighten its regulations and restrict “non-members” from entering its assembly hall.

The proposed regulation, which would include babies in the non-members category, was passed because their rules previously lacked stipulations on who was allowed to enter the chamber, according to Kyodo News.

It comes just months after Ms Ogata was confronted by angry council members when she opted to bring her then seven-month-old son to an assembly session, eventually having to place her baby in the care of a friend before returning to work.

While her actions were widely admired around the world following international media attention, the reaction within the assembly was the opposite: she found herself having to apologise after being reprimanded and was issued with a written warning.

Ms Ogata, 42, who also has a young daughter, described at the time how she had spent months questioning the assembly office about its policy on bringing children to work after becoming pregnant with her son.

The new proposals may remove any ambiguity in terms of whether “non-member” children can enter the chamber, but they will do little to enhance Japan’s already dismal reputation in terms of supporting mothers in the workplace.

The challenges of being a working mother in Japan are well documented: Japan is currently positioned 114th out of 144 countries – one of the lowest rankings among industrialised nations – according to the 2017 World Economic Forum report on global gender gaps.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has famously promoted his policies of so-called womenomics, which aim to bolster the number of women in the workplace, a move that would help ease the impending demographic crisis caused by an ageing population.

However, critics continue to highlight the chronic shortages of childcare spaces across Japan, which prevent many women from being able to return to work as well old fashioned attitudes in the workplace.

Gender discrimination is also rife, particularly in large corporations, where it is not unusual for male workers to assume that women will resign and become housewives after getting married.

Meanwhile, the gap in attitudes towards working mothers between Japan and many other countries appears to be widening. Last year, Australian senator Larissa Waters was widely lauded after becoming the first senator to breastfeed in the nation’s parliament.

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern also announced she was pregnant earlier this year, with the news prompting the nation to celebrate having such a high profile working mother role model.

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