During a debate Wednesday, a female member of Tokyo's city assembly was attacked by her male colleagues after she advocated for government assistance for women who are struggling to have children. Their comments – about how she should get married and whether she's able to bear children herself – have prompted a large backlash.
"The average age of women who are delivering their first child is nearly 32 in Tokyo, way too high," assembly member Ayaka Shiomura said during the session. "The number of women who are receiving infertility treatments is increasing. The metropolitan government should take a more active role in mitigating their problems."
After this statement, Shiomura was reportedly jeered at by assembly members in the majority party, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (which in Japan is conservative).
Shiomura told the Wall Street Journal that one of the male council members yelled, "You're the one who should get married as soon as possible," at her as she discussed the struggles working mothers face. She says that other comments and laughter followed:
As I continued to call for support for infertile woman, another male voice taunted, "Can't you even bear a child?" Again, the assembly hall was filled with laughter and sneers of agreement.
Shiomura compared the comments to school bullying and she's not alone in feeling that way. The words of her colleagues don't look good for the Japanese government: Abe is trying to improve the economy by figuring out ways to integrate more women into the workforce. According to the Guardian, 35,000 people have signed an online petition asking the Liberal Democratic Party to identify who was heckling and punish them accordingly, and the government has received numerous emails and phone calls. That's a request Shiomura has made as well, though she's been told there's no way they can be identified.
"The male members' offensive remarks indicate they think women who aren't married, or can't bear a child, aren't worth listening to," she told the WSJ. "For such male members, understanding and making policies for women who want to but can't marry or have children would be difficult."