Sexist jeers recently erupted as a Tokyo assemblywoman delivered a speech discussing how to better support child-rearing women in Japan, according to two Japanese newspapers.
The assemblywoman, Ayaka Shiomura, was questioning officials about their plans to help working mothers when cries of “Why don’t you get married?” and “Are you not able to have a baby?” could be heard from seats held by members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Both the Mainichi Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun, two of Japan’s five major newspapers, reported the incident.
Shiomura continued her speech, despite being reduced to tears, according to fellow assembly member Shun Otokita, a member of Shiomura’s opposition Your Party. “Jeers like that degrade a person and amount to abuse,” she told reporters afterwards on Thursday, adding, “They should not shout things that have nothing to do with policies.”
An LDP official recently stated the party was still gathering information about the Shiomura incident and was unable to respond to complaints.
Right before the jeering began, Shiomura had called for increased support for women considering fertility treatment. Japan faces a huge population crisis — more and more women in the country are having children later so they can maintain their career because of a severe lack of childcare facilities and support for working mothers. This has helped lead to a fertility rate in Japan that’s significantly below the replacement rate.
Only a third of Japan’s mothers are in the workforce and around 70 percent of women quit their jobs after having their first child. If as many Japanese women were employed as men, reports show its economy would grow by 13 percent. But even though Prime Minister Abe has called for tax incentives for companies to hire women, more day care openings and family leave, and a goal of company boards being at least 30 percent female by 2020, Japan has not done enough to help working mothers.
Women currently make up just 1.6 percent of executive roles at Japanese public companies, with 15 percent of companies meeting the requirement of having one female executive. Studies have shown that increasing gender diversity in executive boards can increase stock price and protect shareholder value. And gender diversity can also spark more increases in diversity.
Politically speaking, women have a ways to go in Japan as well. The Tokyo assembly has 127 members, 25 of whom are women. Nationally, women hold just 78 of 722 seats across both houses of Japan’s parliament.
Meanwhile, the United States is facing large disparities in labor force participation among men and women as well. The U.S. is one of just three countries of 178 nations that does not offer paid maternity leave benefits. If American women were given paid leave and parents were given more flexible schedules, the labor force participation rate among women could rise by 6.8 percentage points.
Abigail Bessler is an intern at ThinkProgress.