Sat, Jun 05, 2004 - Page 5 News List

School slaying a sign of gender equality: minister

AFP , TOKYO

A Japanese minister landed in hot water yesterday after saying a shocking school slaying by an 11-year-old girl was a sign that women have become more assertive in society.

"The number of lively females has increased in general in every society," disaster prevention minister Kiichi Inoue, 72, said in commenting on the context in which Tuesday's slaying of a 12-year-old girl by her 11-year-old female playmate could take place.

"Men have committed thoughtless, harsh acts but I think this is the first for a girl. Recently the difference between men and women is shrinking," he went on.

Satomi Mitarai, 12, died on Tuesday at the Okubo Elementary School in the southern Japan port city of Sasebo after being stabbed and slashed by her classmate, who has reportedly admitted to the killing.

Police have said the young attacker lashed out with a papercraft knife after being dubbed fat and ugly and a goody-goody in messages her classmate wrote on an Internet homepage they shared.

The minister's comments about gender equality drew harsh criticism from women's groups.

"By saying that this incident occurred because females are strong is just crazy," said Harumi Okazaki from the Women and Work Research Center in Tokyo.

"I think he's just making fun of women. I can't take it any other way. The comment itself is discriminatory," Okazaki said.

The top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said in a separate news conference that the minister's statement was inappropriate.

"I don't think the central argument is whether the accused is a male or female," Hosoda said.

The government has recently been forced to backtrack on a number of outlandish statements by apparently out of touch senior lawmakers. In June last year, senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Seiichi Ota was forced to apologize for saying that five university students arrested for gang-raping a woman were "fine as they are in good spirits."

Inoue used exactly the same term as Ota, who was commenting on Japan's falling birth rate -- genki -- which was controversial because it carries a positive connotation of health and vitality.

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