Getting pregnant is a moment of joy for many, but if you’re a Japanese working woman, then it can be your source of misery. Maternity harassment is an open secret in Japanese workplaces. Employees are often unfairly treated, verbally harassed, demoted, or dismissed on the account of being pregnant.
In a recent incident, a woman was a victim of this practice and she was reprimanded because she got pregnant before her “turn”, which was very “selfish” at her end as it broke the employer’s rule. The woman, who is not named, is an employee at a private childcare center. The director of the organization was enraged when he found out that she was pregnant as it clashes with the “shifts” chalked out by him.
Though there are many occurrences, this particular incident came to light when the woman’s husband decided to write an open letter to a popular Japanese newspaper. In his own words:
“The director at the child-care centre where she works had determined the order in which workers could get married or pregnant, and apparently there was an unspoken rule that one must not take their ‘turn’ before a senior staff member.”
“Childcare providers sacrifice their own children to care for the children of others. It is a noble profession that nurtures children who will forge the future of this country.
“I respect my wife for her commitment to her profession, and continue to encourage her. The conditions of those working to nurture and care for children are evidence of a backward country.”
The couple went ahead and apologized to the director by the woman was berated by the senior staff. In his letter, he further added:
“The director grudgingly accepted our apology, but since the next day, has been chiding my wife with harsh words, such as, ‘How could you so selfishly break the rules? Who benefits from having their ‘turn’ to have children dictated, and following those rules?”
Japan is among the developed states that consistently ranks low when it comes to the aspect of gender equality. According to a data published by The Economist in 2017, the women in Japan earn 25.9% less than that of men. Also, it ranked 114th out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s global gender equality rankings. The ranking was decided after analyzing the data based on women’s participation rates in education, economy, politics, and health.
Maternal harassment, called “matahara”, is a major issue in Japan. There are numerous traditional ideas and thoughts dictating the ‘behavior’ of women in the country. The irony of the situation is that while taking time out for pregnancy is considered selfish, at the same time women are also judged if they don’t have any kids.
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