'Maternity harassment' an ongoing injustice

by Nicola Middlemiss29 Jun 2015
Maternity entitlements have been a hot topic in recent months, but while Australian women could lose monetary rights, for expectant mothers in Japan, it seems the situation is far more severe.

The practice of matahar, or maternity harassment, has become so widespread in Japan that a quarter of all working women have felt victimised.  

This week, a group of Japanese women gathered at an international news conference to speak out against the shocking harassment pregnant employees are forced to endure and pleaded with the government to protect vulnerable mothers.

Yukari Nishihara, a care-giver who fell pregnant while working at a facility in Fukuoka Prefecture, was among the speakers. Nishihara said her employer ignored any requests for a lighter workload and went as far as assigning her to more physically demanding duties, including bathing patients, moving them between wheelchairs and carrying heavy equipment.

“I found the company’s treatment equivalent to encouraging miscarriage,” said Nishihara.

A clinical psychologist who wished to remain anonymous also shared her experience and said her work conditions worsened dramatically after she returned from maternity leave.

According to the psychologist, her boss asked her to refrain from attending any off-site activities—important for advancement in her field—  that she’d previously performed routinely, such as attending conferences and visiting other hospitals.

When she complained, the unhappy employee received a note in her pay check that read “focus more on your child,” and was told that she was being “selfish” and a “bad mother.”

When she did participate in off-site activities, her employer categorised it as absence and reduced her pay without consent.

In an interview with Bloomberg, University of Melbourne professor nana Oishi said many Japanese women are bullied out of work as soon as they fall pregnant.

“Once they tell their boss and colleagues about their pregnancy, some are pressured to resign since they will be a ‘burden’ to their colleagues, who will have to take on additional work during her maternity or childcare leave, and when her child gets sick,” she said.


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