Japan’s environment minister is taking paternity leave, a first for a Cabinet minister in the country where men rarely take time off for raising children.
The move has made waves around the country and world, even as Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, a potential candidate for prime minister one day, said he’d only take off two weeks over three months.
“Honestly, I had to think over and over how I should take time off for child rearing, or take paternity leave, while fulfilling my public duty as environment minister,” Koizumi told ministry officials and reporters Wednesday. “Unless we change the atmosphere, government employees presumably won’t start taking paternity leave.”
The decision comes as Japan has pushed for men to take paternity leave and spend more time with their families. The government changed its rules last month allowing public servants now to take more than a month of paternity leave. Governors in Hiroshima and Mie have taken leave, but never before has a Cabinet minister.
Across the country, Japan’s leave policy is generous, with men and women allowed to take off up to 12 months with partial pay. However, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare says only 6% of eligible men took paternity leave from work in 2018.
Koizumi, son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, said he’d be taking the leave without it affecting his parliamentary and Cabinet duties.
Koizumi is having his first child later this month and said last year when announcing his marriage that he’d be taking the leave. Some have been critical of the decision, saying he should focus on his public service duties.
“I hope there will be a day when lawmakers’ paternity leave is no longer news,” he said.
“I wholeheartedly support him,” Tokyo politician Hironobu Narisawa told local media, per CBS News. “This will encourage other male employees.”
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In the United States, federal law allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child, however, individual employers may grant some amount of paid leave. The United States is the only OECD country that does not offer paid leave to new mothers, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller