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Japanese Lawmaker Stirs up Paternity Leave Controversy

January 7, 2016, 4:51 PM UTC
Key Speakers At The World Assembly For Women In Tokyo Forum
Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, delivers the opening remarks at the World Assembly for Women (WAW) forum in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Abe's government is "working flat out" to lure and keep women in the labor force, though current efforts aren't sufficient to generate the economic growth the country needs, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Kiyoshi Ota — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Japan offers its workers one of the most generous paternity leave policies in the world—up to 12 months at almost 60% pay—but until now, no member of the country’s parliament has taken advantage of it.

Japanese politician Kensuke Miyazaki, a 34-year-old member of the governing Liberal Democratic party, will be the first member of parliament to take paternity leave when his wife gives birth to their first child next month, according to The Guardian.

In a country were only 2.3% of new fathers take paternity leave, the politician said that he hoped he could encourage more men to do so. The lawmaker is planning to introduce a proposal to specifically authorize child-care leave for all Diet members, as Japan’s parliament is known. “I thought that by declaring that I wanted to take paternity leave as a lawmaker, I could cause a bit of a stir,” he said in an interview with BBC.

He was right—many lawmakers and Japanese citizens have responded to his announcement with derision. Even members of Miyazaki’s own party spoke out against his decision, calling it inappropriate and a publicity stunt. On Wednesday, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that Miyazaki was reprimanded by a Diet committee for “maligning the reputation of all Diet members.” But The Japan Times says that the lawmaker has one powerful ally on his side: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who reportedly met with him on Monday to express his support.

Engaging women in the workforce has been a key aspect of Abe’s economic revitalization policies. According to The Guardian, as many as three in every five women quit the workforce after they become mothers, due to workplace discrimination and a dearth of childcare facilities. Abe, meanwhile, is pushing to fill as many as 30% of leadership role with women by 2020. Currently, only about 3.1% of board positions in Japan are held by women, according to The Wall Street Journal.