Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

The 'future' prime minister of this country just made history by challenging gender stereotypes

Shinjiro Koizumi, a Japanese lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, announces to media with television presenter Christel Takigawa on their marriage plans, at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan August 7, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. - RC11FB3C2890

Japan's environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi and his wife, Christel Takigawa. Image: REUTERS

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Japan

  • A Japanese politician has caused a social media storm by announcing he would take parental leave.
  • Only 3% of dads in Japan take time off when their children are born.
  • Unless couples start having more children, the country’s population will be one-third of its current size by the start of the next century.

In Japan, a nation with one of the world’s most generous parental leave entitlements, a government minister has provoked a social media storm by announcing he is to take time off for the imminent birth of his first child.

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Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, a rising star in Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party who has been tipped as a future prime minister, plans to take two weeks’ leave spread over a period of three months.

Japan has among the most generous parental leave of any nation. Fathers can take up to a year off – two-thirds of it with full pay – after the birth of a child. But few, if any, men use the benefit. OECD figures show only around 3% of Japanese fathers take any paternity leave.

The rise of men taking paternity leave in Japan. Image: Statista

Japan is facing a demographic crisis, with the birth rate falling to a record low in 2019. This means the country faces an increasingly ageing population and a declining tax base.

Encouraging parenthood

To encourage women to have more children, the Japanese Health Ministry introduced a range of measures, including generous parental leave for both sexes and the right to flexible work schedules for mothers with young children.

The Ministry says when fathers stay at home to help with child rearing, couples are more likely to have more children – hence the push to encourage Japanese fathers take their parental leave.

Koizumi is the first serving government minister to take parental leave. “The atmosphere needs to be changed, not only the system,” he told Bloomberg. “Otherwise the number of public officials who take paternity leave won’t increase.”

He is not the first Japanese politician to challenge the status quo by taking time off for the birth of his child. Back in 2016, Kensuke Miyazaki became the first ever member of Japan’s National Diet (Parliament) to take parental leave.

Parental leave around the world Image: OECD

The OECD says “societal norms and culture” account for the ultra-low uptake of parental rights in Japan. And judging by the Twitter storm when Koizumi announced his decision, feelings on the subject run deep.

A shrinking population

Japan’s health ministry says that unless more couples have children, the country’s population will be only one-third of its current size by the start of the next century, with adults over 65 accounting for more than one-third of the population.

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What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

Japan ranks sixth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Index, but the report warns that, like other countries with ageing populations, Japan needs young people if it is to retain its position as one of the world’s most competitive nations.

The Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 says Japan has the biggest gap between men and women of any advanced economy. Women earn half the pay of men, which may, in part, reflect the fact that they still undertake the bulk of childcare.

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