After receiving more than 1,000 outraged e-mails and telephone calls, the Tokyo metropolitan assembly has been thrown in disarray over sexist taunts targeting a female member made during a recent assembly session.
Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, who advocates support for working women, was among those who smiled as the heckling took place June 18 when Ayaka Shiomura, a member of the opposition Your Party, took the podium to call for government assistance for women seeking to have children.
“The average age of women who are delivering their first child is nearly 32 in Tokyo, way too high,” Shiomura, 35, 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.”
That is when an unidentified male assembly member shouted, “You are the one who must get married as soon as possible.”
Another yelled, “Can’t you even bear a child?”
Shiomura tearfully continued in a choked voice.
Laughter erupted in the assembly, including from Masuzoe, after another male member yelled, “Hey, you made her upset.”
Shiomura expressed anger over the incident on June 19.
“Members of the assembly are denying the issue (stemming from marrying late) that is peculiar to Tokyo,” she said. “It is regrettable and problematic.”
A day after Shiomura posted a message on Twitter noting “the series of derogatory remarks,” it had been retweeted about 20,000 times.
Responses on her Twitter account included, “If that had taken place in a company, people responsible would be disciplined” and “The assembly promotes the advancement of women in society, but that is just rhetoric.”
Hirotada Ototake, a member of the Tokyo metropolitan board of education, criticized the assembly on his Twitter account saying it is “trying to blur its political responsibility.”
He questioned if Tokyo is even qualified to host the 2020 Olympics.
“The jeering is the opposite from the hospitality Japan is set to extend (during the Games),” said Ototake, a 38-year-old writer.
All 25 female members of the 127-member assembly lodged a complaint with Toshiaki Yoshino, the legislative body’s president, demanding that such taunting, which they say degraded the dignity of the assembly, will never occur again.
On June 20, Your Party filed a request with Yoshino, who is also a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, to discipline those who heckled Shiomura. Your Party members say the abuse came from male members in the section of the assembly hall reserved for LDP members, the largest faction in the assembly.
But Osamu Yoshiwara, secretary-general of the LDP, has so far hesitated to identify those responsible.
“There is no evidence that LDP members are the ones who did the heckling,” he said. “Still, I will call on assembly members to refrain from making inappropriate remarks.”
Your Party officials say they will seek to use voice-print analysis software on video footage of the session to identify the perpetrators.
The rules governing the proceedings of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly session stipulate that no one is allowed to disrupt a session, including making remarks without permission or creating a commotion.
Currently, there are no penalties for violating the rules.
When inappropriate remarks are made, an assembly member can file a motion to suspend the session in protest and call a meeting of the steering committee.
But no such motion was filed.
Shigeru Ishige, secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, expressed regret for failing to swiftly respond to the taunting.
“Right after those remarks were made, we should have submitted a motion to halt the session instead of passively observing it,” he said.
Ishige said he is concerned that the flurry of taunts could raise doubts about the decency of the assembly members and result in a loss of public trust.
This is not the first time remarks degrading women have been made by Japanese politicians.
Seiichi Ota, a former Lower House member, lost his seat in an election after saying in 2003 that men involved in a gang rape showed evidence of virility.
The gaffe was in reference to a high-profile rape case that involved male students from Waseda University. He made the remark while speaking before a gathering about the problems surrounding the nation’s declining birthrate.
Hakuo Yanagisawa, a minister of health, labor and welfare, fell to the same fate after he called women “birth-giving machines” in 2007. He also made the remark while talking about measures to halt the drop in the nation’s birthrate.
(This article was written by Ryota Goto and Daisuke Maeda.)
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