From Struggle to Strength

From Struggle to Strength

With Connections’ help, the nonprofit Single Mothers Forum is working to change the lives of parents and children.

When Miyu Kobayashi divorced her husband, she found herself facing the harsh reality of being a single mother in Japan.

For many reasons, including his infidelity, she knew that leaving was the right choice. The transition wasn’t easy. She moved in with her parents, but her goal was to live on her own with her young son.

One group working to help people like Kobayashi (not her real name) through the trials of solo parenting is the Single Mothers Forum. Established in 1980, the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization is run by single mothers and has a simple goal: to support children in single-parent homes. Single fathers can also access its resources.

It’s a service that is much needed “because the situation for single-parent households in Japan is rather dire,” explains Chieko Akaishi, the group’s CEO. “Generally, divorce—let alone single parenthood—is frowned upon in Japanese society.” Children, she adds, may also face ostracism.

Raising children as a single parent has always been challenging, but the situation worsened during the recent pandemic.

In a 2020 survey of 1,300 single mothers by the Single Mothers Association, 65 percent of respondents reported that their income had fallen or was expected to drop. At the same time, nearly 80 percent said their expenses had increased.

It’s no surprise that in 2021 the relative poverty rate for single-parent households in Japan was more than 44 percent, according to data from the National Survey of Living Conditions. That’s well above the nearly 32 percent average for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries.

For starters, employment options for single mothers are often restricted to short-term, temporary or contract-based jobs. An unstable income makes it hard to afford the rising costs of daily living—from food and utility bills to school materials.

As part of this year’s annual financial support of local charities, the Club’s Connections group donated ¥1 million to the Single Mothers Forum.

“Connections chose to support the Single Mothers Forum as they have been at the forefront of helping single-parent families break the cycle of poverty,” says Lina Raffone, the group’s director of charities. “Our donation will make a direct impact by allowing the Single Mothers Forum to publish and distribute a free booklet for single parents that contains details and contacts for educational support initiatives throughout Japan.”

That information can make a big difference when trying to keep up with the demands of work and parenting.

“Raising a child alone and working is super hard,” says Kobayashi, whose working hours make it impossible to welcome her son home from elementary school each day (her former partner sees him once a week).

However, with the help of the Single Mothers Forum, Kobayashi—and many parents like her—are finding a way forward. Even before her divorce was finalized, Kobayashi tapped the forum for guidance. Of particular help were the information seminars and the e-magazine, which has more than 9,000 subscribers.

Seminars are a key offering of the Single Mothers Forum and include sessions on how to gain access to child allowance and career training (the forum will host its ninth careers-related initiative in partnership with the cosmetics giant L’Oréal this fall).

Kobayashi also received career counseling that advised her on work-related issues, including the steps to take if she lost her job. According to Akaishi, it’s this type of support that is especially important for the Single Mothers Forum to provide.

Other programs include a food relief initiative, which delivers essentials to more than 30,000 families per year.

Currently, the group is preparing for a two-day course to train people who support single parents. “We consider this course, which provides appropriate knowledge and accurate information to NPOs and local government officials who support single mothers, to be just as important as our employment support program,” she explains.

“It is important for those we help to be able to receive consultation anywhere in Japan,” Akaishi notes, adding that she is hopeful about the future of Single Mothers Forum and looks forward to expanding the organization’s programs through partnerships with corporate sponsors to provide even better support.

Learn more about Connections fundraising and charitable support on the Connections page of the Club website.

Words: John Amari
Top Image: Single Mothers Forum’s Chieko Akaishi

September 2023