Three Japanese governors have agreed to appear in a video depicting their lives as they carry an extra 16 pounds on their stomachs, simulating a pregnancy belly and an amply developed bosom, in a video intended to encourage men to do their fair share of household chores.
The video is titled “The Governor is a Pregnant Woman” and stars the governors of Saga, Miyazaki, and Yamaguchi prefectures, all men who have agreed to have their lives filmed while they carry on their daily business while seven months into their “pregnancy.”
The men hold their regular government meetings, shop for groceries, and struggle with basic actions such as climbing stairs. “One man tries to pull on his socks and finally gives up in exhaustion. Another is offered a seat on a bus,”
Reuters notes, quoting one of the governors, Tsugumasa Muraoka of Yamaguchi, admitting in the video, “I really didn’t understand. Now that I understand what my wife put up with for so many months, I’m full of gratitude.”
The video is the brainchild of the Kyushu Yamaguchi Work Life Promotion Campaign, an initiative intended to encourage Japanese men to help women around the house more often and, in turn, allow women to work more outside of the house.
Japan is a notoriously hostile environment for working women, particularly women who seek to one day become mothers. A recent study found that Japanese husbands were the world’s least helpful around the house — only 6 percent say they do at least half of the housework at home — and women are routinely bullied into staying long hours at work and neglecting the home life.
A poll by the trade union Rengo found that one of our five working mothers “experienced some kind of office harassment” at work, while women who are not yet pregnant but could become pregnant face significant pressure to either not start a family or abort. If they are pregnant, they may face maternity harassment, in which their bosses punish the women for taking necessary time off or spending fewer hours at work to care for themselves and, by proxy, their unborn child.
The result has been devastating both for the Japanese economy and the future of Japan’s population. Japan experienced 1.4 births per woman, significantly less than that necessary to sustain its population: 2.2 per woman. Its population dropped by nearly one million people in the five years between 2010 and 2015.
Japanese authorities appear to understand the danger their society is facing should women continue to have to choose between starting a family and having a job — a diminished pool of skilled laborers (Japanese women are, on average, better educated than Japanese men) and a smaller population of laborers, and citizens, overall.
The government of Urayasu, a suburb of Tokyo, along with the local Juntendo University Urayasu Hospital, has started a beta program in which the government will help employers provide female workers financial aid to freeze their eggs. “The hospital hopes that preserving eggs will encourage women to give birth when they are ready instead of giving up having children,” the Associated Press reported.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched a campaign called “Creating a Society in Which All Women Shine,” intended to encourage women to work outside the home. As Quartz notes, however, the initiative has yet to mention the difficult of women keeping a job and raising children in a society where men do not typically help in keeping the home, as well as ignoring Japan’s large gender pay gap and the prevalence of maternity harassment.