In Japan, pregnant women can face great social pressure to choose between having either a child or a career, and at work sometimes fall victim to “matahara,” or maternity harassment, a practice in which they are assigned work that’s difficult or dangerous for expectant women. At a news conference this week held by the Tokyo-based nonprofit MataharaNet, several women shared their experiences. A worker at a daycare facility said her boss would not reduce her heavy lifting tasks when she was pregnant, saying she found this “equivalent to encouraging miscarriage.” Another woman who works as a clinical psychologist detailed how her boss asked her to not join important off-site activities (such as attending conferences and visiting other hospitals) when she returned from maternity leave, telling her she was “selfish,” “bad mother” and should focus more on her child. When she complained, she received a note in her paycheck that read “focus more on your child,” she said. Women are often accused of dragging down their teams — it is estimated that one out of four women are subjected to maternity harassment in Japan and about 60 percent of working women resign after the birth of their first child. This is becoming a real problem for the country which actually needs a lot more women in the workforce. A worker shortage is looming as the number of working-age people could be halved by 2060. Prime minister Shinzo Abe has made the gender gap a large focus of his economic revival, calling for women to be in 30 percent of leadership roles in all sectors by 2020. Changing the cultural attitudes towards pregnant women and working moms will be one step in that process.
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