'No, we can't': Japan's conservative values collide with plan to mobilize women for economy

Wed Jun 19, 2013 5:42pm EDT
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By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - Days after Kaoru Shimada and other Japanese mothers rallied in Tokyo this year to press for more public daycare, she was shocked to read a local politician's blog blasting their "shameless" demands and asserting kids should be raised at home.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to take steps, including expanding daycare, to help mobilize women power as part of his "Abenomics" plan to end economic stagnation and engineer growth in a country beset by an ageing, shrinking population.

But that economic imperative is colliding with a conservative worldview, shared by many ruling party politicians as well as top business executives, that sees women's proper place as in the home, not in offices, factories or boardrooms.

"My first impression was that he was mocking us," said Shimada, a 29-year-old system engineer with a toddler son, referring to the comments by blogster Yutaro Tanaka, a local assembly member from Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

"He has no idea of the reality," Shimada - who found a daycare spot about a week before she had to resume work in April - told Reuters at a gathering of young parents exchanging information on day care options and related headaches.

Opposition lawmakers, experts and even some from Abe's own party say such conservative views are common inside the LDP.

"Their view of women is basically as tools to boost the birth rate, reduce social security spending and increase growth. Women have a role because they are key to solving these three problems," said Mari Miura, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

"But they have a strong idea of the traditional family as a core ideology of conservatives. That ideology and reasonable solutions do not match, so the policy is always schizophrenic at best."   Continued...

A woman in a traditional "Kimono" carries shopping bags at a shopping district in Tokyo May 19, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon