TV & Radio
'Gender equality not neutralising sexes'
December 12 2006 at 10:06AM
By Linda Sieg
Tokyo - Efforts to promote equal opportunities for women at work and in society should not go so far as to try to erase all sex-based distinctions, Japan's cabinet minister for gender equality said on Tuesday.
"What I want to stress is that there is no need to neutralise everything," Sanae Takaichi, one of two women in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, told Reuters in an interview.
"There are aspects that are naturally and instinctively different for women, not just differences created by society."
Takaichi's comments echoed concerns among lawmakers worried about fraying traditional values, who in 2005 prodded authors of a government plan to promote gender equality to include a caveat against eradicating all gender-based customs, from separate changing rooms for kids to a dolls festival for girls.
Advocates of improving the status of Japanese women at the time expressed worries that the warning reflected a backlash against recent progress towards gender equality.
First elected to parliament in 1993 as an independent and once a member of an opposition party, Takaichi was known before joining Abe's cabinet in September as an opponent of legislation to allow married couples to keep their premarital surnames.
In a snap election in 2005, then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi sent Takaichi as one of what media called "assassin" candidates to run against ruling-party rebels who had opposed his pet project of privatising Japan's sprawling postal system.
While Abe's 18-member cabinet has only two women, the prime minister has also appointed women to three of five new posts as core advisers on matters such as education and security.
Takaichi, 45, holds a plethora of portfolios covering topics as diverse as a territorial dispute with Russia, business innovation and Japan's falling birth rate.
Resolving a baby shortage that threatens the future of the world's second-biggest economy will require a package of steps to change social and corporate attitudes as well as reduce the economic burden of child-rearing, Takaichi said.
"We need to change corporate awareness so that bearing and raising children is seen as a great thing that everyone should support," she said. "We need to enlighten the public."
Japan's falling birth rate has been linked to a variety of factors including a trend towards late marriages and the difficulty women have balancing family and work.
Married two years ago to another lawmaker but with no children of her own, Takaichi uses her maiden name professionally but has changed her surname in line with existing civil law.
Changing the law, she said, would mean there were three different models for married couples N those who share and use the same surname, those who use different surnames but share one family name legally, and those who have separate legal surnames.
"I thought that society would become complicated," she said, commenting on her past opposition to separate legal surnames.
"As a minister, I have no intention to say one option is good and another is bad," she said.
"If public opinion grows in favour of one solution, then I think it would be fine to revise (the law) in line with that."