Activity Reports (December, 2009)

Report on Symposium
“Children for the Future, Future of the Children --Child Policies and the Role of Civil Society in a Time of the Economic Crisis” (2)

Session 2: Changing Roles of Parental Involvement and Civil Society

Photo of Michiaki Sato, Asahi Shimbun

Moderator: Michiaki Sato (Asahi Shimbun)

Tetsuya Ando (NGO Fathering Japan): “Smiling Fathers will Change the World: When Fathers Become True Citizens”

Photo of Tetsuya Ando, NGO Fathering Japan

Ando switched careers from company employee to chief representative of NGO Fathering Japan several years ago, and since then has spearheaded efforts to facilitate young fathers’ participation in childrearing. He introduced some group’s activities, seminars, workshops, and debate sessions to explain their benefits to families. Fathers joining these programs understand their expected roles within their families and share their concerns and problems with peers. He argued against the general view that longer working hours deprived fathers of quality time with families. He learned how to work efficiency when he was a corporate manager. This efficiency is the key to creating more spare time, improving relations with spouses and making family bonds stronger, he stressed. To this end, he not only called for changes in awareness of the government, businesses and social environment but also stressed the significance of the effort taken by each and every one us at home.

Heinz Hilgers (President, Federal League for Child Protection, Germany, and former Mayor of Dormagen): “Children Poverty and Children Policies in Germany: The Role of Civil Society”

Photo of Heinz Hilgers, President, Federal League for Child Protection, Germany

Following a report on child poverty in Germany and a brief introduction to the German Federal League for Child Protection, the focal point of the discussion was the presentation of the project “As early as possible: planning integration”, which Hilgers has started in the city of Dormagen. The aim of the project is especially to support families with children. Hilgers screened a short film to demonstrate how young and frequently overburdened families in Dormagen are being provided with the means to help themselves. Hilgers also emphasized the importance of “good examples”, which often have more effect than mere legislative changes.

Axel Klein (German Institute for Japanese Studies): Family Policies and Low Fertility Rate in Germany and Japan: A Comparative Perspective

Photo of Axel Klein, German Institute for Japanese Studies

In his presentation, Klein expressed his opinion that policies in Japan are far less aimed at the welfare of children than in Germany. As an important reason he mentioned that the subject of fertility would not be one with which to win an election in Japan. Politicians are also not often personally affected by the problem, rendering this topic even less popular. Unlike in Germany, stakeholders such as welfare associations, churches or the Federal Constitutional Court hardly exert influence on politics in Japan; consequently insufficient pressure is being exerted on political decision-makers. As a result, very little has happened to date in the political arena, with Klein emphasizing that this might change as a result of the recent government change.

Session 3: Panel Discussion: What should be done for our future?

Moderator: Michiaki Sato (Asahi Shimbun)
Panelists: Tetsuya Ando, Sawako Shirahase, Masako Maeda, Heinz Hilgers, Martina Peucker, Antje Richter-Kornweitz

Photo of Panel discussions at Symposium: Children for the Future, Future of the Children
Panel discussions

Asked by an audience about Japanese election campaigns focusing more on the elderly than children or youth, Hilgers replied that though some politicians in Germany were increasingly inclined to take a similar stance, the vast majority of the elderly attached more importance to the future of children. Therefore, in principle, the elderly and children should be on the same side. In response to comments from the floor that Japanese fathers need to learn to work more efficiently so that they can shorten working hours and help with childrearing, Ando said that many fathers struggle to balance work and life because the weight of work is heavier than they expected, while some still cannot understand the importance of the father’s role. He added that given that men’s awareness is changing to become more family oriented, especially among those in twenties, he expects the situation to be improved. Panelists and participants continued to have informative discussions.

Photo of Audience and panelists after the session
Audience and panelists continued discussing after the session.

45% of participants (23 people) responded to the evaluation questionnaire sheet. Over a half (65%) of respondents’ reason of attending was being “interested in the topic”, more precisely in “child-rearing support”, “role of civil society”, “family policies in Germany” and “father’s participation in child-rearing”. Others attended for the symposium because of their “interest in speakers”, “interested in joint initiatives by Europe (Germany) and Japan”. Overall, 96% of respondents were satisfied with the program, with 73% (16 people) saying “very satisfied” and 23% (5 people) “Somewhat satisfied”. Here are some remarks by the attendants: “the conference inspired me to have concrete ideas for change by showing us specific cases and policies from Germany”, “the conference enabled me to clearly understand the issue of child poverty in Japan. I will make difference at my work”.

The conference made it clear that we do have problems in supporting households in poverty at the time of economic crisis and that there is a large room for civil society to work on. As the organizer of the conference, we aim to explore the issues of families and personal lives by employing international comparative aspects and participation of a wide range of experts and practitioners involving this issue.

Ai Goto
Europe, Middle East, and Africa Division
Japanese Studies & Intellectual Exchange Department

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