TOKYO • •Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has come under fire after a senior MP suggested that only women should raise children under three and another urged newly-weds to have at least three kids.
Mr Abe's government has made "womenomics" - or boosting women's participation in the workplace - a priority, as the country's workforce drops amid a rapidly ageing population.
But Mr Koichi Hagiuda, a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), touched off a firestorm on Sunday when he said men rearing children might be "unwelcome" for them.
"Children need an environment where they can stay with their mothers... if you ask infants under three which parent they like more, the answer should be mama, even though there are no firm statistics to support it," said Mr Hagiuda, 54, the LDP's executive acting secretary-general.
His remarks came after another MP, Mr Kanji Kato, doubled down on comments suggesting that young couples should produce at least three children, saying he had popular backing for the idea.
But the leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party lashed out yesterday, saying the comments were "intolerable".
SHOULD HAVE KEPT MUM?
Children need an environment where they can stay with their mothers... if you ask infants under three which parent they like more, the answer should be mama, even though there are no firm statistics to support it.
MR KOICHI HAGIUDA, a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
"There are many people who cannot give birth to children despite wanting to and there are many single-father families," Mr Yukio Edano said. "Don't they notice these facts?"
Ms Sumire Hamada, from the rights group Asia-Japan Women's Resource Centre, said that Mr Hagiuda's comments were "out of the question".
"What happened to the government's pledge to build a society where men can participate in child-rearing?
"These comments overturn what the government has said, and I'm sure many fathers have been angered (by Mr Hagiuda's) rude remarks," she said.
Another campaigner said the remarks could encourage men to continue with the long working-hours culture endemic in Japan.
Mr Tetsuya Ando, founder of the organisation Fathering Japan, said: "When he said children under three like mothers more than fathers, that's unacceptable."
"That kind of remark puts pressure on working mothers to stay at home while removing fathers' rights to rear children," added Mr Ando, 55, himself a father-of-three.
Under Mr Abe's watch, Japan has slipped to 114th from 98th on the World Economic Forum gender equality index. It also ranks 159th in terms of female representation in Parliament.
Just having children can be tough for a woman in Japan. Kumamoto councilwoman Yuka Ogata, 42, had her seven-month-old son kicked out when she took him to an assembly session.
The sexism does not end at the workplace. The traditional men-only sport of sumo wrestling recently came under fire after women were barred from the ring as they tried to help a man during a medical emergency.
Days later, a female mayor in the western city of Takarazuka was barred from delivering a speech inside a sumo ring.