ELISE HU, HOST:
A Japanese lawmaker did something shocking earlier this week. She brought her baby to work. Yuka Ogata took her seat in the front row of the Kumamoto Municipal Assembly and held her 7-month-old in her lap. The baby quietly sucked his thumb. He seemed content. And the male politicians seated in the chamber around him, they looked pained. They stared at him and his mother, murmuring to each other with furrowed brows. Then four of them confronted the assemblywoman at her desk.
NATHALIE-KYOKO STUCKY: The action of Ogata is very unusual and maybe provocative. She did it because she had no other choice.
HU: That's Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky, a freelance journalist in Tokyo. She talked to us about this via Skype while holding her 6-month-old daughter.
STUCKY: So according to the rules, as Japanese people like to follow the rules, a baby is considered as a guest.
HU: A guest. Guests are barred from sitting with or on lawmakers at their desks in the chamber.
STUCKY: So they asked the mother to bring the child in another section of the assembly, where she had to leave her baby there.
HU: Was there somebody to care for the baby?
STUCKY: Usually, there's - we never leave a baby by itself. It's something that Ogata said was inappropriate.
HU: Yuka Ogata eventually got a friend to watch her baby. There actually is no rule against lawmakers being accompanied by a young child in the chamber. It was Ogata's colleagues who instead insisted that her baby was a guest. The majority of them were men.
STUCKY: I was absolutely not surprised.
HU: Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky says Japanese society still expects men to work and women to give up working when they have children. Women who don't have a difficult time of it, a condition Yuka Ogata wanted to emphasize on her first day back on the job since having her baby.
STUCKY: It is very hard for women at work to find day care or nannies. And I, myself sometimes had to attend meetings and interviews with my baby. And the reaction of people even in the metro when you take a baby in a stroller, you look like you're working women, it is like I am doing something offensive. The eyes of the people around is very difficult to bear.
HU: More Japanese women are working these days, and the country's prime minister has pledged to boost opportunities for women as a way to help Japan's slumping economy. Changing attitudes about working mothers may be a harder task, but it's one that Assemblywoman Ogata says she's determined to take on.
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