Improving the maternity leave system is seen as a crucial way of encouraging women to have children whilst continuing their jobs. The percentage of women taking maternity leave in Japan is quite is around 76 per cent in 2013, which is quite high, however, the female labor force participation rate in Japan remains low amongst OECD countries at 49 per cent.
With child care still being viewed as the woman's job, almost all of the work associated with childcare remains with them. In order to increase the female labor force rate, the government must focus, not only on maternity leave but on paternal or parental leave.
A father's support is crucial for enabling a mother to continue her work after giving birth. Last year, I went to the United States as part of a women's leadership program to research what is needed to increase the female labor force participation rate in Japan. Through several interviews I carried out with couples living in the U.S., it became obvious to me that Japan does not have an optimal environment to allow men to help their spouses with childcare.
All of the women I interviewed are still working and they said it is because of the help they received from their partner whilst on paternity leave. Therefore, in order to increase the amount of men who help with childcare, improvement of the paternity leave system is a vital first step.
In Japan, the usage of the paternity leave system is low. For example in 2013, only about two per cent. of men took paternity leave, even though 70 per cent of men reporting they wanted to take paternity leave.
Why is the percentage so low? The reason is that the paternity leave system does not meet the needs of men. The current system allows men to take one-year of continuous paternity leave that cannot be divided. A lot of men are afraid of leaving their jobs for a longer period of time as it may affect their career path, and they are only able to earn 67 per cent of their salary during their leave. What would be more effective would be to have a shorter paternity leave where men can take less than 10 days off at a time, or even two or three days per month, to help their spouses during maternity leave.
The Japanese government must modify the childcare leave system to allow men to divide the one-year paternity leave into these shorter intervals to increase the percentage of men who take paternity leave. Although making the paternity leave system flexible would require a considerable amount of effort, it would be an important step to increase the female labor force participation rate in Japan.
The support a father provides for childcare is crucial in increasing female labor force participation. In Japan, childcare is still thought of as the work of women and there continues to be a heavy burden on them. The first step in alleviating this burden is for the government to create a paternity leave system that is both flexible and convenient. This way men can make a greater contribution towards childcare support and have a significant impact on increasing female labor force participation in Japan.
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