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Gender Minister Inoguchi: Make it easier for women to work to avoid population crisis
Japan needs to make it easier for women to enter the work force and have a family at the same time in order to avoid further declines in its population, a government official said Thursday.
Kuniko Inoguchi, the recently named minister for gender equality, said companies need to respond more to the needs of working mothers by granting child leave for fathers and not encouraging pregnant women to quit.
"If you decide to have a family, and eventually you decide to go back into society, you're never fully employed and never fully paid," Inoguchi told a small group of reporters.
"So the opportunity cost for many women is very high," she added. "My suggestion is that we have better policies for a work and life balance."
Japan's population of 127 million began to fall for the first time on record last year, fanning worries that future generations of workers won't generate enough tax revenue to care for the growing legions of elderly.
At the center of the population debate is the question of how to encourage women to have more babies. Japan's average fertility rate of 1.29 babies per woman is one of the lowest in the world.
Japanese companies, however, typically expect long hours from workers, and many women with careers feel that they cannot meet the demands of both work and family life and must choose one or the other.
There are other disincentives to having children. Housing is crowded and expensive, education is pricey and husbands' long work hours mean that women have to raise children largely on their own.
"There's not enough support for families, for working mothers," Inoguchi said. "Not many men are taking child leave, so all the burden falls on women. And corporations aren't necessarily sympathetic."
Inoguchi said a leading problem was the pressure pregnant women feel to quit their jobs. She said the government would submit a bill in parliament this coming session to outlaw such discrimination.
"By becoming pregnant, you're pressured to leave," she said. "It's like bullying." (AP)
Gov't to consider shouldering childbirth costs to fight dwindling birthrate
January 19, 2006
Japan encourages companies to become family friendly
Last Updated Thu, 19 Jan 2006 08:57:15 EST
Japan's falling birthrate has prompted the social issues minister to call on companies to implement family-friendly policies.
It's crucial that companies believe being pro-family will help them, Kuniko Inoguchi, state minister for gender equality and social affairs, said Thursday.
Policymakers worry Japan's falling birthrate could result in a smaller workforce supporting a growing number of retirees, putting a serious dent in the economy.
For the first time since the end of the Second World War in 1945, Japan's population shrank in the year ended in October.
The fertility rate, or the average number of children born per woman, fell to a postwar low of 1.2888 in 2004, from 1.2905 in 2003. Demographers say a rate of 2.1 is needed to keep a population stable.
Inoguchi compared the push to get companies to adopt family-friendly practices to encouraging them to become more environmentally friendly.
Japanese companies once strongly opposed environmental responsibility, but now embrace it and even use it as an advertising tool.
"In my view, at this point, it is probably more important to foster a structural reform of mindset," she said. "What I have to do as a political leader is to make it clear that this is a valued element in society, to be kind to families."
Inoguchi plans to propose policies by June which could include having the government pay the total costs related to giving birth. Currently, public health insurance gives mothers a lump sum for each baby.
She also wants to make it easier for mothers to take child-care leave.
Japan firms must be 'family friendly' - minister
Thu Jan 19, 2006 4:49 AM ET
TOKYO (Reuters) - Making Japanese companies "family friendly" is one of the most important steps needed to fight a falling birthrate, the social issues minister said on Thursday.
Japan's population shrank in the year to October for the first time since 1945, and the baby shortage has become an problem for policymakers who fear a smaller workforce supporting a growing number of pensioners would hurt the world's number two economy.
Kuniko Inoguchi, state minister for gender equality and social affairs, told reporters while policies are essential, the most important thing will be convincing companies being pro-family will help them.
"In my view, at this point, it is probably more important to foster a structural reform of mindset," she said.
This would be similar to the shift made by companies to be more environment-friendly, a position once strongly opposed but now such a plus for many it has become a key advertising tool.
"What I have to do as a political leader is to make it clear that this is a valued element in society, to be kind to families," Inoguchi added.
Inoguchi said she hopes to draw up several policy proposals by June, which may include having the government pay the total costs of birth instead of the present scheme, in which public health insurance gives a mother a lump-sum amount per baby.
Inoguchi also plans to submit a proposal to make it easier for women to take childcare leave to the session of parliament that starts on Friday.
Japan's fertility rate -- the average number of children a women bears -- fell to a postwar low of 1.2888 in 2004 from 1.2905 in 2003. A domestic newspaper report late last year said it was likely to have dipped further, to about 1.26, in 2005.
Demographers say a fertility rate of 2.1 is needed to keep a population stable.