Yuka Ogata, a Japanese politician and member of the Kumamoto city assembly, brought her 7-month-old son to a city council meeting held in Japan's Kumamoto Prefecture last week. While many would argue that isn’t newsworthy, the action was in direct violation of the assembly's rules, which state that anyone who is not a staff member will not be permitted to enter the assembly floor during a meeting.
BuzzFeed News reports Ogata was told to leave the floor before the meeting started on account of her son, but she refused. Though her intent was to stand her ground and participate in the meeting with the little one in tow, Ogata eventually had to exit the chamber after about 40 minutes and leave her son in the care of a friend. When she returned, solo, the meeting was allowed to begin.
Ogata's deliberate choice to bring her young child to a city council meeting despite knowing it was against the regulations has ignited an important conversation in Japan about the rights of parents (particularly moms) in professional settings.
According to a recent article in The Atlantic — which detailed the difficulties working mothers in Japan face — roughly 62 percent of women drop out of the workforce when they have their first child. Though that figure may seem high, it makes sense when you consider that Japanese corporations often incentivize women to stay home and care for their children while their husbands work. As the article points out, many companies give husbands whose wives stay home a bonus, and the Japanese tax system punishes couples with two incomes.
The article also explains that when women do try to return to the workforce (either by choice or by necessity, in cases of divorce or death of a spouse) they typically can only find low-paying part-time work, if at all. To add insult to injury, women who do work earn 30 percent less than men who do.
Based on what Ogata said after last week’s council meeting, these inequities are exactly what she hoped to address with her actions. “I wanted to highlight the difficulties facing women who are trying to juggle their careers and raise children,” she told The Asahi Shimbun.
Though The Japan Times reports Ogata’s bold move resulted in her receiving a written warning from the Kumamoto city assembly because she broke the rules, her actions also inspired many working parents in Japan to take a stand and bring their own children to work. Per Buzzfeed, Japanese citizens began tweeting their support for Ogata with the hashtag "#子連れ会議OK" — which roughly translates to “It's OK to bring children to meetings.”
Oother countries have made tremendous strides in supporting working mothers in recent years. In Australia, for example, no one batted an eye when a Senator breastfed her baby while addressing parliament.
Cover image via Shutterstock / tsxmax / Shutterstock.com.