Photo/IllutrationYuka Ogata, a member of the Kumamoto city assembly, drew attention in and outside Japan after taking her infant son to attend a plenary session in November last year. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The postwar period has seen women gain the right to vote and stand for public office in Japan, but it appears difficult for them to juggle their political careers and raise children.

A total of only 120-130 women nationwide have given birth while serving as a member of a local assembly since women’s suffrage was achieved after the end of World War II, according to a survey by Hiroko Nagano, 45, a member of Tokyo’s Toshima Ward assembly.

Meanwhile, about 21,000 women have been elected to local assemblies since the end of the war, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

One reason it is difficult for women of child-rearing age to take public office is that they are not covered by the Labor Standards Law, which grants maternity and child-care leave to women working in the private sector.

Female politicians who take maternity or child-care leave have often found themselves accused by some members of the public of not fully fulfilling their official responsibilities, given they are entitled to a full amount of their remuneration regardless of absence from assembly sessions.

The survey, conducted between September and November, involved 874 local assemblies--47 prefectural assemblies, 814 city and ward assemblies, and Tokyo’s 13 town and village assemblies.

Nagano received responses from all the assemblies contacted.

The survey found that 13 percent, or 110, of the assemblies said that there were female members who gave birth during their terms, totaling 159 from an estimated 120-130 assemblywomen.

The working environment has become more accommodating for local assemblywomen who planned to start a family since 2000, experts say.

More assemblies have moved to adopt a rule authorizing the absence of female members from plenary sessions for childbirth.

Eighty-six percent of all the assemblies now have some kind of rule on maternity leave.

A network for 60 assemblywomen pregnant or with young children was formed with the recent survey as a catalyst to help each other or promote activities to encourage more women to become politicians.

The average age of local assemblywomen was 57.2 as of June 2015, showing a continuing increase over the years, according to data from the public interest organization Fusae Ichikawa Center for Women and Governance.