Japan lawmaker in hot water over sexist remark as government embarks on 'womenomics'

TOKYO Mon Jun 23, 2014 7:21am EDT

1 of 2. Tokyo city assembly lawmaker Akihiro Suzuki (R) bows to apologise to lawmaker Ayaka Shiomura at Tokyo Metropolitan City Hall in Tokyo, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 23, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

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TOKYO (Reuters) - A lawmaker from Japan's ruling party apologized on Monday for telling a female member of the Tokyo city assembly to "hurry up and get married", an incident that embarrassed the government as it makes a major push to increase women in the workforce.

City assembly member Ayaka Shiomura, 35, was talking about measures to support child raising and boost fertility during a session last week when male lawmakers interrupted her with cries of "Hurry up and get married" and "Can't you give birth?"

Lawmaker Akihiro Suzuki, who earlier had denied making one of the remarks, on Monday bowed deeply at a hastily-called news conference to apologize for what he called an "inappropriate" remark.

"I did not make these remarks out of any intention to insult lawmaker Shiomura," the 51-year-old Suzuki said.

"I recognize that there are women who want to get married and can't, and those who want to have children and can't. My comments were lacking in concern towards people like that."

The jeers outraged Japan and also riled officials in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) since it comes just as the government is set to unveil economic plans that include boosting women in the workforce in a society where many believe a woman's place is still at home.

Suzuki, who earlier met with Shiomura to apologize to her in person, said he had resigned from the LDP but would remain in the Tokyo assembly to "help improve the situation there".

But he denied that he had made the comment about giving birth and said confusion about the overall situation had kept him from coming forward earlier.

"I deeply apologize for and regret that a comment I made set off such a huge fuss," he added.

Shiomura told reporters that she felt "some relief" but that she hoped the other hecklers would also come forward.

Abe has long vowed to take steps to mobilize the working power of women to revitalize the economy and offset a massive, looming labor shortage - steps referred to by some as "womenomics".

His economic reform plan, due out on Tuesday, calls for raising the proportion of women corporate managers to 30 percent by 2020 from last year's 7.5 percent as well as creating 400,000 new day care places to enable women to raise children and work.

Women in Japan are often encouraged to leave their jobs after having children and many working women face menial demands such as serving tea to male colleagues.

(This story corrects spelling of name in paragraph 3)

(Additional reporting by Minami Funakoshi; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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