A Japanese politician is taking what he hopes will be a step toward changing how fathers think about paternity leave there.
According to The New York Times, Shinjirō Koizumi announced Wednesday that he plans to step back from his political role for the time being while he takes care of his newborn, who is expected to be born later this month.
Koichi Nakano, a Sophia University political scientist in Tokyo, told the Times that the announcement was a “good precedent” and that “it’s about time that this kind of thing becomes more normal.”
Although Japanese laws allow men to take a total of a year off for paternity leave — the same amount of time mothers get for maternity leave — just 6 percent of new fathers took advantage of that option versus 82 percent of new mothers, the Times reported.
According to the Times, the country’s 38-year-old environment minister announced his plan in a meeting with staff.
“I hope my taking paternity leave will lead the way of working styles to one where everyone can easily take child-care leave without hesitation in the environment ministry,” Koizumi told his staff, according to the Times.
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Japanese birth rates have reached record lows recently. In December, the country announced its birth rate had sunk to the lowest it has since the late 1800s, according to NPR.
Despite the fact the law allows men to take paternity leave, there’s still a stigma in Japanese culture around men taking time off work for family matters.
In September, the Times reported two Japanese men sued their company after they claimed they were demoted and eventually fired for taking paternity leave.
“We need to assure that there’s work-life balance so that children can spend time with their parent and parents can spend time with their children,” Glen Wood, one of the men who filed the lawsuit, reportedly said at the time. “That has to be recognized as a universal human right.”
Last summer, when Koizumi first announced he was planning to take paternity leave, he explained his decision on his blog.
“There are men who are going through similar difficulties. They want to take the leave, but it’s hard,” he wrote then. “Child-care leave will not be prevalent unless we change not only the system, but the atmosphere as well.”