But You Promised!

Hisako Ajiro
Seishin Joshi Gakuin Middle School

"But why? Why do you have to go to work? You promised that you'd stay with me on my birthday!"

"Hisako, I can't change it. I have to go."

"Is work more important than I am?"

"Of course not."

"I was looking forward to my birthday!"

"We'll celebrate together on another day."

"Why don't you quit your stupid job? You don't have to celebrate my birthday anymore."

I still remember the day when my mother told me she wouldn't be at home on my birthday.

"Are you a working mother?" "Are you having a hard time?" "Is your mother working?" "And yours?"

Well, my mother is.

Do you know how many women are working today in Japan? More than 62% of women of working age have a job! But does the society support them enough? In Sweden, women do not quit their jobs just because they become mothers, as the social benefits are well developed. Either parent can take paid time off when their children get sick. In Germany, mothers and even fathers can take childcare leave for up to 3 years. And in the U.K., working mothers returning from their maternity leave have flexible working hours geared to their family needs. What about Japan?

Mrs. Ishikawa, a mother of two children--one 5, and the other 2 years old--works at a public elementary school. She was my teacher in 6th grade, and I still see her once in a while. Every morning, she takes her children to the nursery before going to school. Now, since many of you listening today work at schools, I'm sure you'll understand. If everything goes well at school and her students behave nicely, she can go home at 6 o'clock and pick up her children on time. But she is not always that lucky. Sometimes "unexpected surprises" happen and she isn't able to leave school as she had intended. I won't explain what "unexpected surprises" are, since you know very well, so I shall leave it to your imagination, but we students are not always good, are we? Anyway, whe she comes back home with her children, she still has a lot of housework to do. She has to feed the children, bathe them, and put them to bed. And of course, she has to take care of her husband as well. From very early in the morning until late in the evening, she keeps working and working without rest. But what happens when her children get sick? Nurseries won't accept them in case it's infectious, so working mothers have to find a solution by themselves.

Can you accept a society like this? My answer is, "No." I have started to think about my future. If I am a working mother one day, I would want to live in a society that allows me to fulfill my working potential and still give proper care to my family. It's true that in the past I had difficulties understanding my mother's priorities. But today, I see it differently. Today, I love to see my mother, Mrs. Ishikawa, and all the working mothers around me, enjoying their work and the challenges that every day brings. But they need more support, from their family and from society. All I want to say at this moment is: "Dear working mothers, please don't ever give up!"

(1-13 Speech in 54th Contest, 2002)

(C)JNSA FUND/the Yomiuri Shimbun

All of the speeches are copyrighted material of JNSA FUND and The Yomiuri Shimbun, and are protected by the Japanese copyright law.

JNSA FUND. All Rights Reserved.