A regional assemblywoman who brought her 7-month-old son to the assembly hall has raised a controversy in Japan on whether mothers in politics should be allowed to do the same or focus on fulfilling their public responsibilities without their children in sight.
On Nov. 22, 42-year-old Yuka Ogata of the Kumamoto city assembly took her seat on the assembly floor holding her son. Following a quarrel with the assembly chairman, Ogata was eventually persuaded to leave her baby boy with a friend before attending the session which began about 40 minutes late.
Ogata said she had been asking the assembly office whether she could bring her baby since she became pregnant last year. But having been unable to receive a positive reply, she decided to take her son in with her.
The assembly of the southwestern Japanese city said Ogata was responsible for having obstructed the flow of the session and later issued a written warning for breaching rules.
Sophia University professor of politics Mari Miura, 50, said Ogata's action has visualized the challenge facing politicians who are mothers. "To increase the number of female assembly members, we need a system that accepts people of various backgrounds. The root of democracy is that all people participate in politics," Miura said.
Miura said that in Australia and New Zealand, female lawmakers are allowed to breastfeed their children in assembly halls, a right obtained after mothers fought for nursing in public. "We also need to start a careful discussion...and create public rules that anyone can accept," she said.
Miura said some rules that assemblies in Japan could adopt include allowing nursing capes, leaving the session upon the chair's request if a child cries or accepting proxy votes when mothers are not able to attend sessions to take care of a sick child.
But former Shiseido Co. Executive Vice President Kimie Iwata, 70, said she does not agree with the action taken by Ogata as politicians have been entrusted by society to carry out public responsibilities.
"In the first place, is it really acceptable to bring a child that may cry or move around to the assembly?" Iwata said. "The assembly's plenary session or its committees are the place where assembly members need to concentrate on debate."
Iwata said if Ogata is unable to find day care, "(The assembly) should provide subsidies for hiring a baby sitter."
However, Iwata said politicians should not be allowed to take childcare leave for a long period or receive the same level of support measures as members of the general public.
Ayumi Miyazato, a 38-year-old assemblywoman for the town of Chatan in Okinawa Prefecture, took her 4-month-old girl to the assembly in September. But instead of taking her daughter to the session, Miyazato hired a babysitter to take care of her child in a waiting room and breastfed her during recess.
Being the first member in office of the town assembly to become pregnant, Miyazato asked the assembly office before giving birth to allow her to use the room, explaining she could not apply for daycare services until her child was 6 months old.
Her request was accepted and nobody has frowned at Miyazato for bringing her child to work.
"I have no plans to take my child to sessions as I want to concentrate on discussions. But I'm using the waiting room because I want to be close to my kid and work with peace of mind," Miyazato said, adding that continued talks between the assemblies and politicians who are mothers is the key to changing the situation.