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2014年6月22日 (日)

(社説)都議会の暴言 うやむやは許されぬ

June 21, 2014
EDITORIAL: Tokyo assembly needs to identify, punish sexist hecklers
(社説)都議会の暴言 うやむやは許されぬ

It is distressing to know there are members of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly who can shamelessly hurl sexist abuse at a female colleague during an assembly session, which is a public forum.
They apparently lack the bravery to announce themselves as the hecklers.

The incident occurred on June 18, when Ayaka Shiomura, a 35-year-old member of the opposition Your Party, pointed out that women in Tokyo tend to marry and have babies far later than their counterparts in other parts of Japan. She called for policy support for women facing challenges in getting pregnant, having babies and raising children.

While she was making the presentation, male members of the assembly shouted abuse at Shiomura, with one saying, “You are the one who must get married as soon as possible.”

When she was rendered speechless by the jeers, a ripple of sneers swept through the chamber.

A senior assemblyman of the party that is suspected to have the hecklers among its members has shown a reluctance to identify and punish them. “We cannot act on rumors,” the senior assembly member said.

The verbal abuse and the party’s response to the incident are deeply disgraceful.

The nation’s declining birthrate is a structural problem in a society where women face many hurdles in trying to have and raise children while working.

The hecklers wrongfully described it as a problem with individuals by effectively saying that Shiomura can help solve the problem by having children.

What they did was tantamount to sending a message to individual women in this nation that they are responsible for the nation’s demographic decline by failing to have children.

Their words show no sign of awareness of the fact that behind the trend toward marrying and having babies later in life are factors related to both men and women.

This lack of an accurate understanding of the problem is at the root of the social pressure on women to choose between pursuing a career and having children. It is also one of the key reasons for many Japanese women to feel hesitant about getting married.

If the capital’s assembly fails to make a serious response to the scandal without trying to identify the hecklers, it would effectively be tolerating verbal abuse. That would cause this incident to have far more serious implications than the simple existence of some impudent people among the assembly members.

The assembly members are elected representatives of the citizens. Their attitude and behavior are seen as reflecting the prevailing sentiments in society.

This episode of abuse suffered by Shiomura could make many Japanese women who are struggling with problems concerning pregnancy and childbearing at their workplaces or homes hesitant to discuss their challenges or seek support.

That would hamper efforts to solve these intricate and deep-rooted social problems, creating the worst of the negative effects of the sexist jeers.

When former Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose got embroiled in a money scandal, the metropolitan assembly bitterly criticized him for “making light of” the citizens of the capital and urged him to step down to take responsibility. Now it is time for the assembly to demonstrate its ability to clean up its act.

Shiomura’s message about the incident on Twitter was retweeted more than 20,000 times in one day, causing a wave of anger to spread like a wildfire nationwide.

This is an age when anger among ordinary citizens manifests itself in a highly visible manner. We can take some solace in the fact that the wave of anger has put strong pressure on the assembly members to act.

We hope this episode will serve as an important lesson for as many local assembly members as possible about the responsibility they have to bear for their remarks in public.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 21


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