Outrage in Japan as woman lawmaker jeered for being single, childless

TOKYO - Japanese officials on Friday condemned the heckling of a woman member of Tokyo's city assembly, during a debate on support for working mothers, by male members who ridiculed her and called on her to get married.

The incident comes amid a push by the government to increase the number of working women as a way to boost the economy and illustrates deep-seated conservative attitudes in Japan, where many men still believe that a woman's place is in the home.

City assembly member Ayaka Shiomura, 35, was talking about measures to support child raising and boost fertility during a session on Thursday when male lawmakers interrupted her with cries of "Go and get married" and "Can't you give birth?"

She later said most of the calls came from the direction of seats where majority assembly members, including those from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, were sitting.

"I could take jeers about my policies, but I do not think these were appropriate comments to make regarding women," she later wrote on Twitter.

The heckling prompted a flood of complaints to the government of Japan's capital, which will host the Summer Olympic Games in 2020.

Abe has long vowed to take steps to mobilise the working power of women to revitalise the economy and offset a big, looming labour shortage.

His economic reform plan, due out next week, calls for raising the proportion of women corporate managers to 30 per cent by 2020 from last year's 7.5 per cent as well as creating 400,000 new day care places to enable women to raise children and work.

But women in Japan are often encouraged to leave their jobs after having children. Many working women face menial demands such as serving tea to male colleagues.

"No matter which party was jeering, it was offensive to women," said Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Norihisa Tamura, one of several cabinet officials who objected to Shiomura's treatment. "From elected officials, this is absolutely unacceptable."

Many women agreed. One posted a message on Shiomura's Twitter page saying: "Please tell us who these people are, so I can make sure I never vote for them again."