TOKYO, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- A government spokesman who recently said giving birth is a "form of contribution to the nation" has provoked a backlash from a Japanese women's rights group.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made the remark on Sept. 29 in reference to a celebrity announcement. Singer and actor Masaharu Fukuyama and actress Kazue Fukiishi had publicized their marriage the previous day, The Japan Times reported, and Suga said he wanted women in Japan to be inspired by the news and produce children "to contribute to the nation."
Response swiftly followed – since Oct. 1, the Project Japan Women's and Human Rights Network has been conducting a campaign on Charge.org, petitioning for the withdrawal of the statement, the Tokyo Shimbun reported. So far, the activists, who have said Suga "doesn't understand the diverse aspects of women," have collected 10,000 signatures.
Suga's remarks are problematic, according to activists, because at the time of his statement he was in charge of gender equality issues in government. That duty has been transferred to a new Cabinet minister, Katsunobu Kato, on Wednesday after a Cabinet reshuffle.
Suga has since distanced himself from the controversial remark.
"It's obvious that getting married and having children is a matter of personal freedom," he said. "To create a society that is supportive of child-rearing parents is a role of the government, and we are also working to realize a society where women can shine."
Japanese politicians have been vocal about Japan's low birth rate in the past. Last December, former Prime Minister Taro Aso had said the lack of people giving birth in the country is a "problem," and current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently promised to raise Japan's birthrate to 1.8 per household by 2020, from 2014's 1.42.
Japan estimates the population as a whole will drop to 86.7 million by 2060 with 40 percent people who are older than 65.