The Japanese government yesterday called on Tokyo city council to "clean itself up" after sexist jeers at an assemblywoman undermined its push for more women into the workforce.
Criticism from across the political spectrum was heaped upon still-unidentified city politicians from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) over the jeers during a debate on child-rearing this week.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, cautioned that the incident had nothing to do with national politics. But "if there were comments of a sexist nature, I would like the assembly to clean itself up", he said.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura, whose portfolio includes the welfare of working women, said the abuse was "not only deeply disrespectful to women, it was a major human rights issue".
The comments came as colleagues of opposition member Ayaka Shiomura, 35, demanded the assembly identify and punish those who directed abuse at her.
Shiomura, from the centre-right Your Party, was questioning senior figures in the city administration on plans to help mothers when she faced shouts of "Why don't you get married?" and "Are you not able to have a baby?"
She and her allies said the heckling came from an area occupied by local members of Abe's ruling LDP. None have been publicly identified so far.
Social media was abuzz with criticism, while Tokyo's city office was inundated with complaints.
"In order to show the public that these sexist comments cannot be tolerated, they should identify the people who made the remarks and let them take the heat," tweeted lawyer Ryo Sasaki, who added that the comments would mean a sacking in the private sector.
The city assembly has 127 members, of whom 25 are women. In national politics, women occupy just 78 of the 722 seats in the two legislative chambers.
The incident comes at a sensitive time for Abe, who has been pushing to boost the number of working women as part of his wider bid to kick-start growth in the world's No3 economy.
Japan has one of the developed world's lowest rates of female workforce participation and economists say it needs to boost the number of working women. But a lack of child care, poor career support and deeply entrenched sexism are blamed for keeping women at home.