Japanese politician barred from bringing baby to council session

Women are still often expected to give up work after having children in Japan – AFP

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A local Japanese politician has stirred debate after she was forbidden from bringing her baby into a council session.

In a case that contrasts starkly with the Australian lawmaker who breastfed her baby in parliament, Yuka Ogata was told she could not take part in the assembly on Wednesday if she had her seven-month-old son with her. 

Officials of the Kumamoto municipal assembly said visitors and observers were forbidden from the floor, and that included the young children of politicians.

The session eventually started 40 minutes late after Ms Ogata agreed to leave the infant with a friend. 

It was the first time Ms Ogata had attended a plenary session since she gave birth to her son, the BBC reported. She said she wanted to show how difficult it was for women to continue careers and bring up children.  

“I wanted the assembly to be a place where women who are raising children can also do a great job,” she told the Mainichi newspaper.

The council said it would discuss ways to support lawmakers who had young children. 

“We would like to work on a system where assembly members can participate in meetings with their children,” Speaker Yoshitomo Sawada, according to the Mainichi.

Her move has sparked debate online with supporters saying she was brave and opponents questioning if it was a good idea to bring a baby to a workplace.

“I think her act was wonderful. People wouldn’t take problems seriously” if she hadn’t shown up with the child, one Twitter user said.

“Balancing work and child rearing isn’t about being with a child all the time at a workplace,” said another user, who identified herself as a fellow working mother.

“I really cannot understand her action,” wrote this user.

Japan has consistently fared poorly in gender equality rankings in the developed world.

Women are still often expected to give up work after having children, face chronic shortages of public childcare spots and regularly describe the existence of a “concrete” rather than glass ceiling preventing female workers from advancing to senior positions.

In contrast, Senator Larissa Waters returned to parliament in Australia in May after giving birth to her second daughter  and brought her baby Alia Joy with her while she voted. 

Furthermore, she made political history in the country by breastfeeding her daughter in the chamber.

In Britain, an independent review in July last year concluded that allowing women to breastfeed would be “symbolic” and showcase the Commons as a “role-model parent friendly institution”.

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