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Number of Childcare Leave Takers Increases, but Workplace Environment Problems like Childbirth Retirement and Maternity Harassment Remain

According to the results of a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, of working women who had given birth in the year from October 1, 2012, to September 30, 2013, 86.6% had begun childcare leave by October 1, 2014 (including persons who had applied for childcare leave). This was an increase of 3.6 percentage points over the corresponding figure in the 2013 survey (83.0%). As for male employees, of the working men whose wives had given birth in the same period, 2.30% had begun childcare leave (including persons who had applied for childcare leave), up 0.27 points over the 2013 survey (2.03%).
Thus, the ratio of women giving birth while working and then taking childcare leave is on the rise, and the childcare leave system can be said to be taking root. On the other hand, though, the 2015 White Paper on Gender Equality issued by the Cabinet Office reveals that 62% of working women quit their jobs on the occasion of their first childbirth.
According to the results of a survey conducted by the Meiji Yasuda Institute of Life and Wellness, announced in August 2014, the most frequent reason cited by women for quitting work at the time of pregnancy and childbirth was that "I always intended to quit on the occasion of pregnancy and childbirth" (37.6%), followed by "The childbirth and childcare support system in my workplace was inadequate" (27.9%). Other reasons were "I wanted to give preference to my family" (26.5%), "I wanted to concentrate on child raising" (17.7%), and "I wanted to take good care of my own and my unborn baby's health" (16.8%). With the exception of the second-placed opinion, these reasons reflect the desire of women to give priority to family and child raising.
In addition to the second-placed opinion, however, many people also replied that they had been forced to quit because of the workplace environment. For example, many respondents said that "It would have been difficult raising children and continuing to work at the same time" (16.8%) and "My workplace wasn't ready to accept my continuation at work" (15.9%).
Maternity harassment is a problem as well. Quite a number of women seem to be the victims of maternity harassment, which means the mental or physical harassment or bullying of working women in the workplace for reason of pregnancy and childbirth.
In May 2014 RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) conducted an online awareness survey of maternity harassment among working women in their twenties to forties, and 26.3% of women who had been pregnant replied that they had been the victims of maternity harassment. The most frequently cited act was "I was subject to inconsiderate comments during my pregnancy or after my return from childbirth leave" (10.3%), followed by "There was no culture enabling consultations about pregnancy" (8.2%), "I was dismissed, had my contract terminated, forced to voluntarily resign, etc. as a result of childbirth" (5.6%), and "I was made to do strenuous work during my pregnancy or after my return from childbirth leave" (4.7%).
The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare has designated June of every year as "Equal Employment Opportunity Month" to deepen awareness of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the concept of positive action in society as a whole with the aim of realizing a society in which both men and women can display their abilities in the workplace. This year the ministry took up the issue of the prohibition of maternity harassment, that is, the disadvantageous treatment of women for reason of pregnancy and childbirth, which has become a social problem. The Employment Equality Offices at prefectural Labour Bureaus still receive many consultations regarding this matter. The theme of this year's month-long activities, which aimed to further raise awareness of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and related ordinances, was "Are you being troubled by maternity harassment at your workplace? Dismissal because of pregnancy is illegal. Please consult with the Employment Equality Office!"

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