“Ikumen” – The real situation in Japan and comparison to Sweden

A father and his children.

A father and his children. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Aki Yamada

Ikumen” is the expression and slang of the father in Japan who takes care of his children positively instead of the mother, and who enjoys child care. In 2006, one Japanese company started to use Ikumen in order to encourage father’s participation into childcare and stop the decreasing of population of Japan. After that, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare began to project of Ikumen in 2010 trying to make better society for business men to take part in domestic work and encourage childcare. In this essay, I would like to discuss how Ikumen made an impact for Japanese father trough the gap between ideal purpose and real situation in the first part and in the second, I will compare systems and laws between Japan and Sweden, which quite famous for its developed childcare system for father.

Firstly, possibly if you are Japanese, many times you might hear about the word, Ikumen in dramas, books and magazines. Actually, according to the public-opinion poll in 2000, 70 percent of family agreed that father take caring of their child and 10 percent of father strongly desire to do childcare by himself. However, most of their real opinions say that I want to do childcare but “I want to focus on my work” or “women have to take care of child”. Therefore, I think more and more father think that they want to help mother, however, still stereotype of gender role reminds in Japanese soiety.

Second of all, I would like to see the Japanese government’s movements for supporting Ikumen and compare them to Sweden’s processes of how they adopt father to take care of child. In 1992, the Japanese government made the law about Child‐Care Leave Law for men for the first time. And after that, in 2002, they made an agenda for the goal that archive 10 percent increase of childcare leave. Additionally, they also made the law for companies to have the system of enough childcare leave for men.

Those movements made Japanese society easier for father to have childcare leave and take care of child, however, it is not enough because we need more comprehensive support system from both government and companies. At that same time, when we see the system of Sweden, they also spent 30 years to adopt their Ikumen support system from 1974 such as making childcare leave system for 240 days for each gender, giving 80 percent of salary for father when he is taking childcare leave, and providing money for $18 for each day as an allowance. Therefore, I can say that Japan also need more long time to be good society for Ikumen like Sweden did.

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Care Crisis at the Core of Gender Non-Equality

by Anna Dreveau

As Rhacel Salazar Parreñas notices in her chapter, “The Care Crisis in the Philippines,” a “crisis of care” is striking developed and developing countries.

As women in developed countries tend to a more masculine position, i.e. a career-oriented job instead of her traditional mother role. Those both income household generally let their children without any family care anymore. Indeed, the traditional gender roles are as such: the father is away from home, working as the family breadwinner and the mother stay at home, taking care of domestic labor and childcare. Those views are still contemporary, even in some developed countries, such as Japan.

However, in most Western societies, roles tend to become more gender-neutral. Does that mean that former female and male-specific role’s work share is equally divided ? That both parents manage to contribute to childcare and work ?

Alas, it was not the path paved by those claiming for a more gender egalitarian society. Wanted to be able to have a professional career, women did achieve to get it, but the load of work of their “mother role” did not decrease. Therefore, two options are offered: either being a “supermom”, being able to achieve both career and family life or simply abandon the task of taking care of the children to someone else, because of obvious lack of time.

As Parreñas observed, to respond to this demand of caretakers, women from developing countries, such as the Philippines, came to those families to be hired to take care of their children, leaving their own children back in their mother countries, generally in the custody of relatives.
The initially from-developed-country care deficit is thus moving into developing countries, through the process of global care chain. And quite similarly to developed countries, women gain the status of the main income earner of the family, getting the respect from this position within the family. Still, the buck is passed to those transnational mothers by mass media or local government as they are seen to have abandon their most important and initial role: being here and taking care of the children. Even though Parreñas’ examples can overcome the “not taking care of the children” part (as they do so as a “long-distance supermom”), their absence is undeniable.

Nevertheless, the real absent one in family life that can be observed in both developed and developing countries seems to be the father. Even though the father’s role is considered important even in gender non-egalitarian society, they are not relied on when the mother is away as other relatives or even elder siblings are preferred, as Parreñas’ interviewees testified. It would be unjust to claim that in Western countries, families do not rely on fatherhood as those societies became increasingly aware of both parenting’s benefits. Still, even those rely more on motherhood to raise children: as an example, when a couple get a divorce, this is easier for the mother to get custody for the child(ren) than it is for the father.

Getting more gender equality do not mean getting women at the same standards than men, but creating middle standards in which both gender can fit equally. Dividing work and family life more equally is one of the solution, but the most important thing to get rid of is those sexist expectations that just build the gender non-egalitarian societies around the world.