Japan's first lawmaker to take paternity leave faces backlash

Japanese MP stirs debate over paternity leave
Japanese MP stirs debate over paternity leave

Meet Kensuke Miyazaki, the man about to become Japan's first lawmaker to go on paternity leave.

Miyazaki has announced that he will take time off when his wife, fellow member of parliament Megumi Kaneko, is due to give birth to their first child next month.

"I decided to take paternity leave because I thought men taking part in child-rearing is indispensable in solving the declining birth rate and promoting the role of women in Japan's future," Miyazaki said.

He's facing a backlash from traditionalists, but labor rights advocates say he has a point.

Japan, like other big Asian economies, is struggling with a shrinking workforce. Governments are increasingly looking to women to enter the labor market in greater numbers to help mitigate the problem.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) says higher female participation in the workforce has been linked to higher growth -- and men play an important role in making it happen.

Related: Women hold key to fixing Japan's economy

"When we see men more involved in the caring of children, this allows women to return to work earlier, to stay in jobs," said the ILO's Laura Addati.

But it's often easier said than done, amid deeply rooted cultural views on the traditional family unit where women stay at home.

Asia is waking up to the issue, and an increasing number of countries in the region are starting to ask -- what about Dad?

More governments are implementing or increasing statutory paternity leave, shaping "a trend that recognizes the role of the father in care-giving, not only as an obligation, but also as an entitlement," Addati said.

Myanmar, for example, recently increased its statutory paternity leave from six days to two weeks. Others aren't so generous: Hong Kong mandates three days.

Related: Japan slashes target for women in senior positions

Requiring leave is the first step in changing the cultural mindset, though it will take time, Addati said. And it sets a bar for employers, who can always offer more leave than governments demand.

While Japan has one of the most generous statutory paternal leave policies in Asia at 52 weeks, less than 2% of men actually take the time off, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Miyazaki is getting flak from critics -- including from within his own party, the governing LDP -- who say duty to government is more important than family time.

"It totally went beyond my expectations," he said.

His wife's decision to take three months of maternity leave, meanwhile, faced no controversy.

Related: Facebook dads around the world get more paternity leave

On the other side of the world, the U.S. doesn't have statutory paternity leave. Policies are determined by employers and vary by company. Some big names such as Facebook (FB)have made headlines lately for increasing their paternity leave allowances.

But it's perhaps even more urgent for emerging economies than developed ones to have statutory leave policies.

"The key benefit is inclusiveness," Addati said. "With the policy, it is really universal and it will go beyond the size of the company, the type of jobs; it will really benefit all workers, not just those working for big companies, which usually have workers that earn higher incomes."

And on a personal front, "for children's happiness, it's very important and meaningful that their father or mother spend time with them directly," Miyazaki said.

--CNN's Junko Ogura and Chieu Luu contributed to this report

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