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The BBC's Juliet Hindell reports
"This is being seen as a breakthrough for women which will set an example"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Maternity leave breakthrough for Japanese MP
New born baby
Women MPs are now allowed 14 weeks maternity leave
A female member of the Japanese parliament has become the first politician in Japan to take maternity leave while in office.

The MP, Seiko Hashimoto, 35, gave birth a month after the upper house of parliament voted overwhelmingly to grant women politicians the right to be absent for having a baby.

Mrs Hashimoto - a former Olympic speed skater - launched a campaign for the change in the law when she became pregnant last year.

The law allows women MPs to take 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Step forward for women

BBC Tokyo correspondent Juliet Hindell says the new law is being seen as a breakthrough for women in a country which has been slow to accept the idea of women going back to work after having a baby.

Mrs Hashimoto gave birth to a baby girl, weighing just under 3kg (6.5 pounds), at a Tokyo hospital early on Wednesday.

"Both mother and daughter are in good health," said Kaori Moriyama, an aide to Mrs Hashimoto.

One other politician gave birth while in office in 1950, but Tenkoku Matsutani, a member of the lower house, did not get maternity leave.

Female members of parliament account for 17% percent of the seats in the upper house and 5% percent in the more powerful lower house.

Women in Japan gained the right to vote in 1945.

The 500-member lower house is still discussing whether to revise its rules on maternity leave.

Japan has slowly begun accepting the idea of mothers having careers, and laws banning discrimination in hiring and promotion have recently been enacted.

Paternity leave?

The idea of paternity leave has yet to take hold in Japan, where the suggestion that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair might take time off to care for his fourth child has caused a stir.

Japanese commentators have pointed out that it will be some time before a Japanese prime minister does the same as Mr Blair, not just because of attitudes but because of age.

Most prime ministers in Japan are over 60 and had their families many years ago.

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's workaholic culture
23 Mar 00 | UK
Should Tony take a break?
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