Japan's health minister calls women "birth-giving machines"

Soon after, he apologizes and calls his comments "too uncivil."

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published January 29, 2007 6:59PM (EST)

Sure, Japan may have admirable plans to institute family-friendly work policies and improve gender equality and the availability of childcare as a means of remedying the country's sharp birthrate decline in recent years. But, this Saturday, the country's health minister sent the country hurtling backward -- or, more accurately, speeding forward toward some dystopian future -- by referring to women as "birth-giving machines," the Associated Press reports.

In a speech addressing the birthrate decline, Japan's health, labor and welfare minister, Hakuo Yanagisawa, said, "The number of women between the ages of 15 and 50 is fixed. The number of birth-giving machines (and) devices is fixed, so all we can ask is that they do their best per head." Is this Japan or the Republic of Gilead? That's just: Wow. In fact, the comments were shocking even to Yanagisawa himself, who apologized "even as he made the remarks," according to the AP. After the speech, he called his statement "too uncivil." (As opposed to appropriately uncivil?) Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama rightly criticized his pronouncement: "It was extremely rude to women. Having children or not having children is naturally a matter that women and households are free (to decide themselves)."

More so than being rude, though, it reveals governmental resistance to actually doing any of the heavy lifting. "The high cost of raising children, as well as the lingering notion that women should quit their jobs after giving birth, has meant many opt to have few or no children," the AP reports. As a result, the country's birthrate reached a historic low of 1.26 per woman in 2005, and some experts suggest such a decline could lead to "severe labor shortages and difficulties in paying health bills and pensions for large numbers of elderly." But while Japan's politicos have taken to talking about strengthening governmental support of families and improving gender equality to remedy the decline, there seems an underlying expectation that families -- particularly women -- should just suck it up and take one for the team.


Tracy Clark-Flory

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