As Japan tries to combat its alarmingly aging population, women and their lifestyles are being blamed. And a counterattack on social networks.
Last year, less than 800,000 births were registered in Japan. “Unheard of since the first statistics on the subject appeared in 1899,” observed journalist Karin Nishimura-Puppe in late January. Madame Figaro. But how to explain it? In reality, many factors are involved. On the one hand, “the economic context and the labor market don’t really encourage having children,” analyzed the French woman who lived in Japan for more than twenty years. “Finally, the lack of childcare is also an obstacle.”
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Faced with this observation, the fight against declining birth rates is a priority for the archipelago. In January, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warned against the trend, which threatens Japan’s ability to “function as a society,” and since then countless articles have been published on the issue. One of them sparked the ire of netizens by claiming that Japan has the highest number of childless women over 50 in the OECD. The post immediately sparked a flurry of comments on the Internet with the hashtag “for life without children.” Because women have little say on the subject, and primarily because they are made to feel guilty, it is social media that they turn to to make themselves heard.
reverse the sin
At first, Tomoko Okada was dismayed to read the usual criticism of childless women there, but was eventually delighted to discover nuanced and compassionate discussions. Some explain why they could not or wanted to be a mother. “I thought it was about having children. “to do normally»“, this 47-year-old writer explains to AFP.
In the past, he had unsuccessfully registered on dating sites in the hope of finding a partner. He had the bitter experience of feeling guilty when his father asked him for a grandson on Father’s Day. But by sharing her experience with others, she realized that her “lifestyle was also acceptable,” she says.
“Don’t blame the women”
Many industrialized countries have low birth rates, but the problem is particularly acute in Japan, which has the world’s second-oldest population after Monaco and is experiencing a growing labor shortage due to strict labor regulations. The Prime Minister thus promised financial assistance to families, easier access to childcare services and more parental leave.
But while Japan has just two women in its government and more than 90% men in its lower house of parliament, many feel left out of the public debate, even under attack. “Don’t blame women for the low birth rate,” tweeted Ayako, a 38-year-old childless Tokyo native who campaigns online for the recognition of “different choices” in life. According to her, Japan’s traditional division of roles is at the root of the problem, while in 2021, according to a government study, Japanese women spend four times as much time with children and housework as men, but more and more are telecommuting.
If we note the undeniable progress made by the parents of the new generation, strong pressure still weighs on the shoulders of women who struggle to be the “perfect mother”. “You just have to see them go to work every morning making the best bentos (lunchbox in anticipation of lunch because there are no cafeterias, editor’s note) to their child,” said journalist Karin Nishimura-Puppe, who is still behind Madame Figaro. “Beyond this mental burden, the sexism of Japanese society also dominates women. One of the tenors of the ruling party recently, for example, said that the number one cause of births is related to the fact that women marry too late, implying that they “win too much”.
Social networks, confession of women
Ayako isn’t shy about speaking up online, but she feels “stuck” when it comes to addressing these issues in real life. “I have the impression that women are criticized a lot when they express their opinion,” regrets this thirty-year-old woman, who prefers to give only her name, AFP quotes.
For Yuiko Fujita, professor of gender studies at Meiji University, social media allows women to discuss politics and social issues without fear, often anonymously. Hashtags upset about single moms looking after single children or complaining about rejected childcare applications have also gone viral on Twitter, but have had little impact outside of this ‘bedroom’, says the teacher.
Response to actions
Experts point to many reasons for the complex problem of Japan’s declining birthrate, including the rigid family structure. Only 2.4% of births in the country occur outside marriage, which is the lowest rate among OECD countries. Others cite economic conditions, arguing that the country’s sluggish growth is preventing couples from having children. And then, “because there are no babysitters and almost no night care, parents are blocked from their social life, whether it’s going to the movies, going to concerts, going to restaurants…” Karin Nishimura-Puppe recalls.
That is why concrete actions were implemented. They are mainly aimed at allowing better access to childcare services and appear to be able to raise the birth rate, but often in a “temporary” way, notes Takumi Fujinami of the Japan Research Institute. In addition to a better distribution of housework, “long-term economic stability and higher wages are essential” to reverse the trend, he said.
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Source: Le Figaro