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Women in uniform discuss work-life balance

The Japan News

MSDF Rear Adm. Natsue Kondo, left, speaks beside other panelists at a symposium in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday.

By Michinobu Yanagisawa / Japan News Staff Writer Women are steadily advancing their roles and status in defense and military forces, overcoming daily challenges to achieve work-life balance, pioneering female officers of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military said Tuesday at a symposium in Tokyo.

“Most importantly, women [in the SDF] should get chances to challenge themselves,” Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Adm. Natsue Kondo said at the symposium at the Japan National Press Club. The event was organized by Tokyo-based incorporated nonprofit organization US-Japan LINK.

Currently, about 14,000 women serve in the SDF, making up only about 6 percent of the entire personnel. The SDF plans to raise the ratio to at least 9 percent by 2030.

In 2016, Kondo assumed her current position as director general, logistics, at the SDF’s Joint Staff and became the MSDF’s first female member, other than medical officers, to become a rear admiral. “We want to actively move forward with the policy of increasing the number” of female personnel in a bid to raise their influence, she said.

“Even while being given chances, women must accomplish duties prior to insisting on rights,” she added.

From the U.S. side, Capt. Michele Day, executive assistant to the commander, U.S. Navy 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, spoke about her experience as a trailblazer maintaining a family life while working. She recalled that when she was a junior officer, people around her used to say: “You can’t have a family [while serving on combat warships]. You can’t just have both.”

Day then stressed that she currently has three daughters. “Has it been easy? No. Has it been worth it? Yes.”

The challenge of meeting work-life balance needs was shared by other Japanese female panelists. MSDF Capt. Miho Otani, who became the first female destroyer captain in 2016, pointed out that duties in the MSDF often require personnel to be absent from home for a long time.

“It’s still difficult to work [in the SDF] while raising children,” Ground Self-Defense Force Col. Noriko Yokota said. “How can we create a better environment for women to work? That is an issue [to tackle] to increase the number of women.”

Meanwhile, Air Self-Defense Force Col. Yukari Yoshida stressed the idea of diversity. “The goal should not be to make women participate actively,” she said. “It is healthy for the country and the organization that people with various ways of thinking can work in the SDF.” Speech

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