Politicians have babies. It happens. And what happened when Yuka Ogata, a Japanese politician, brought her 7-month-old baby to work this month launched an international conversation about childcare and the struggles working mothers face in politics and in other professions.
When Ogata, who is a member of a member of the Kumamoto Municipal Assembly, arrived at work with her baby in her ams her male colleagues immediately asked her to leave, citing rules that bar visitors (including babies) from the chamber floor.
According to assembly regulations, visitors must sit in the public gallery, The Guardian reports.
Ogata was unsurprised by the reaction of the men. She’d been campaigning to create on-site childcare facilities since learning she was pregnant with her second child last year, but her requests were not well received, according to The Telegraph.
She’s far from the only Japanese mom dealing with childcare issues. The country is experiencing a daycare crisis, with waiting lists for state-funded daycare growing and critics calling for government action.
“I wanted to appear in the assembly hall with my baby and represent the voices of mothers, working and nonworking, who tell me they’re struggling to raise a child in Japan,” Ogata told the Washington Post.
“The whole reason why it's so difficult to raise a child and have a career in Japan is because there are no women with children involved in the decision-making process,” she said.
Ogata is part of a worldwide movement of politicians who’ve brought their babies to work. Former Australian Senator Larissa Waters made history earlier this year by breastfeeding her infant in the chambers after challenging a rule that barred visitors (including babies), and a Canadian politician, Stephanie McLean, recently made history as the first Member of the Legislative Assembly in the province of Alberta to give birth while in office.
The reaction McLean got when she brought her baby to work was a stark contrast to Ogata’s experience. The Canadian was met with support and calls for more family-friendly policies in the Alberta Legislature. Ogata on the other hand, received an official warning, the Japan Times reports.
The social media backlash began almost immediately, though. Buzzfeed translated the resulting hashtag (#子連れ会議ok) as “It's okay to bring children to meetings,” and notes a surge in Japanese social media conversations about family-friendly workplaces.
Ogata’s colleagues now see her point. Chairman Yoshitomo Sawada was among those who immediately confronted Ogata about bringing her baby in, delaying the session for 40 minutes and insisting she take the baby outside.
“Thanks to her, I learned there are cases overseas where members can bring a child into the assembly,” Sawada later told the Washington Post. “So I hope we can consider her suggestions for improving the working environment for female members in some way.”
That’s a great idea. After all, babies are people too, and I can think of a lot of things that are more disruptive to municipal politics than a quiet 7-month-old who just chilled on his mama’s lap the whole time.