Improve gender equality and you will raise fertility
The best way to get Singaporeans to produce more babies is to improve gender equality, AWARE says in a letter published on The Straits Times Forum page on 20 May 2010.
We wholeheartedly agree with the view of Professor Hans Rosling (ST, 12 May 2010) that Singapore has not seen a reversal in the decline of fertility rates because “fathers here are not rising to the task of child-rearing, and state support for equal parenting roles is not adequate.”
Many people think that Singaporean women have achieved gender equality. However, compared to countries such as Australia, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States where the total fertility rate is now increasing, we have a long way to go.
In the last 30 years, women have entered the workplace in droves. More girls graduate from our universities than boys. However, these changes are asymmetrical. Men have not moved into the domestic sphere at the same rate.
This asymmetry makes child-rearing much less attractive for women. The woman who derives satisfaction from her work will not be keen to have any or many kids if she has to bear the bulk of the childcare burden. In the meantime, her husband does not lose sleep about balancing work and family life.
Whose problem is this and what can be done? The State, the market and the individual all play important roles in the determination of fertility decisions. Here are some considerations:
What is the message and effect when the State mandates four months paid maternity leave but not a day of paternity leave? Are we sending the message that fertility is solely a woman’s responsibility?
Adequate support structures for families and availability of flexi-work arrangements are key factors in countries which have seen positive fertility trends. In Singapore, however, part time work amounts to a miniscule 10% of employment. Why is this?
Are family friendly arrangements in workplaces equally available to male employees or do employers treat a male employee’s request to take time off to care for his sick kid less favourably?
How can we support more active fathering? The “Dads for Life” national campaign is a commendable initiative of the National Family Council and a step in the right direction.
Traditional gender roles not only deprive men of the opportunity to play an active role in their children’s lives but create an imbalanced environment where women are discouraged from having more kids.