Japan’s falling birthrate is becoming a very real problem for the Asian economic power, enough that the central government is thinking of ways to promote having children. One of the ideas of the Japanese government is to produce a handbook with relevant information on pregnancy and childbirth to be distributed to teenage girls starting fiscal 2014 – this spearheaded by a task force set up to address the issue of a declining population. This promotion has been soundly met with strong criticism from women’s groups, as they argue that the government is treating pregnancy and childbirth as if they were issues that only concern women.
The government task force, whose major objective is to “combat the falling birthrate crisis” is headed by State Minister for Measures for Declining Birthrate Masako Mori, who says that the says the Inochi to josei no techo – literally “the handbook on life and women” – targets young people and hopefully sparks in them an interest in having children. Japan is home to an increasingly aging population, and the people who are able to bear children tend to marry late and bear children later in life. Members of this task force have agreed that providing correct and relevant information about pregnancy and childbirth – especially to women at a young age – would be an effective way to get people interested in creating families of their own in the future. “We should make it possible for women to choose and design their own lives by beginning to spread knowledge among junior high and high school students,” Mori said at a press conference on May 7. According to a study by the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the rate of pregnancies logically decreases as couples get older – even those who take fertility treatments. After the age of 32, birthrates begin to decline as the rate of miscarriages increases.
The All Japan Obachan Party (AJOP), a civic women’s group formed last year on the social networking site Facebook, and boasts of 2,100 members already, released a statement on the same day as of Mori’s press conference, stating that, “Anything and everything is being loaded onto the shoulders of women.” Mayumi Taniguchi, associate professor at Osaka International University and also acts as AJOP’s leader said, “We can see through to the government’s standpoint that a woman’s value lies only in childbirth. The Abe administration’s policies on women are entirely incoherent. The image that Mr. Abe has in his head of “women” is completely at odds with reality.”
As of the moment, a lot of ideas have been put forward to resolve Japan’s birthrate issue. The most popular one is for women of mature ages to take fertility treatments. Recently though, studies have shown that fertility treatment is riskier and less effective for women who are above 40 years old, raising concerns for the ones who have already received the treatment. Ideas also come from Japan’s lawmaking body, with Seiko Noda, a lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, suggesting in March this year that abortions could be banned just to help push Japan’s birthrate forward – an option that has definitely proved controversial.