July 26th, 2011

Singapore government’s CEDAW delegation reports to the UN

The following are some highlights from the Singapore government’s responses to questions posed by the United Nations’ CEDAW Committee on July 22

On anti-discrimination legislation

  • While Singapore lacks specific legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender, article XII of its Constitution guarantees the equal protection of all people under the law, and therefore prevents discrimination based on gender, marital status, age, disability, or other such grounds.
  • The government has decided against acceding to the CEDAW’s Optional Protocol, which allows the UN CEDAW Committee to receive complaints from individuals or groups.

On the position of CEDAW in Singapore’s domestic law

  • The intent and purpose of Singapore’s domestic laws are aligned with CEDAW, if not with all of CEDAW’s exact language.
  • CEDAW’s provisions do not automatically become part of the law. But a woman facing discrimination can invoke the principle of equality under Singapore’s national law.

On other human rights treaties

  • The Singapore government does not want ratification for the sake of ratification. The fact that it has not ratified these treaties does not mean that the principles of these treaties are not applied. It simply means that the government does not agree with certain provisions in these treaties.

On the lack of a national human rights commission

  • This is not necessary, as the aim of achieving gender equality can be achieved through existing mechanisms.
  • The Office of Women’s Development is also able to address new and emerging issues in a more targeted way.

On gender equality measures in workplace

  • Paternity leave, though not mandated, is offered by nearly half of employers.
  • Efforts to place more women on the boards of publicly traded companies are under way.
  • There are 50 continuing education and training centres available to all, regardless of gender. More than 270,000 workers were trained in 2010 alone, and half of these were women.

On discrimination in the workplace

  • National legislation offers avenues for both complaint and redress.
  • Further, the Tripartite Alliance For Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) aims to change the mindsets of employers by drawing up guidelines for fair employment practices, which provide for equal hiring practices.
  • Only 0.2 per cent of women have cited discrimination as their reason for not working.

On discrimination of pregnant employees

  • Singapore is making progress through incentives to companies for instituting flexible work patterns.
  • Singapore Airlines is making changes to its policy on pregnant women.
  • Overall, complaints on pregnancy-related discrimination have decreased in recent years.

On sexual harassment in the workplace

  • Singapore has a tripartite approach. When the harassment is of a criminal nature, offenders can be prosecuted and face high fines, caning or prison time.

On sharia

  • Sharia makes an allowance for men to engage in polygamy under very exceptional circumstances. Only 0.08 per cent per cent of marriages are polygamous and this represents a significant decline.
  • Another sharia provision that prevents the full withdrawal of reservations is a rule that women who wish to get married must have a legal guardian, or a wali. However, the right of a woman to be heard is integrated into this wali requirement under Singapore’s national laws.
  • In 2006, a fatwa was enacted allowing women to sit on the appeals boards of sharia courts.
  • Women have also sat on the Islamic Religious Council, and 7 female religious scholars have been appointed to serve as advisers to the Council.
  • On reservations to article 16, some progress has been made, but it is important for Singapore to move at a pace acceptable to its community at large. The future focus will be on improving the status of women under Muslim law.

On marital rape

  • Marital rape has been addressed as far as it can be at this time, but it will be revisited in the future.

On the budget for women’s issues

  • It is difficult to state a figure as the ministries all work collectively. Through all those offices, a strong budget is available.

On sex-trafficking

  • While Singapore is not a party to the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress And Punish Trafficking In Persons, the language of that instrument has been adopted in addressing this issue.
  • There is a template for law enforcement officers to elicit information to determine whether or not a person is a victim, and they are trained to deal with trauma.
  • Victims are provided with shelter. At present, these facilities were only 80 per cent full.
  • Singapore is part of an initiative of the organisation Child Wise on child sex tourism.
  • Diligent border checks interrupt the supply of victims, and perpetrators are subjected to tough penalties.
  • In 2010 alone, 24 child sex tourism perpetrators were arrested.

On the rights of foreign domestic workers

  • Singapore’s strong regulatory framework has drawn many foreign domestic workers. 7 out of 10 workers surveyed said they intended to stay in Singapore beyond the length of their current contract, and almost 90 per cent were aware of their employment rights.
  • Employers who do not provide their foreign domestic workers with sufficient rest are liable to be punished.
  • The government is considering a legal weekly requirement for rest; however, the issue is a complex one and requires wide consultation.
  • Medical insurance for migrant workers has been raised from $5,000 to $15,000 annually.

On body image

  • Self-esteem and positive body images are used in schools.
  • Medical practitioners who do not follow national laws on aesthetic practices are liable to penalties.

On the definition of “head of household”

  • Efforts have been made in recent years to emphasise the importance of role-sharing in families.
  • Initiatives are under way in public schools to promote active fatherhood.
  • There is no legislation requiring the heads of household to be men; any other understanding of the matter is a misconception.

On national service

  • Currently, only male citizens have to serve mandatory military service. However, no rule exists to exclude women from serving if they so choose.
  • It is not true that men in national service earn more than women. In fact, in many occupations, the reverse is true.

On special temporary measures (i.e, affirmative action)

  • Government policies are, by and large, gender-neutral, and special temporary measures are not required.

On women in politics

  • There is a women’s wing in the ruling party structure, which pursues reforms to policies affecting women.
  • Women in Parliament have more impact than their numbers would suggest.

On discrimination of the LGBT community

  • There are no plans in place to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code. The general approach is that the provision will not be enforced unless a complaint is filed.
  • There is no systemic discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. All movies, including those with such themes, are subjected to the same review by a board of censors.
  • Most of Singapore’s laws are gender-neutral and does not consider the sexual orientation of a person in their application. Therefore, all rights, services and mechanisms available are accessible by both hetero- and homosexual people alike.

On the welfare of foreign brides

  • Such wives are able to apply to stay in Singapore on their own merits, regardless of actions taken by a spouse or ex-spouse.
  • Divorced foreign wives can apply for special visas; other immigration laws are gender-neutral and a minimum residential period is applied before permanent residency is granted.
  • Divorced spouses retain their permanent residency or citizenship gained while they were married, and foreign wives receive equal protection under the law.
  • Approximately 9 out of 10 citizenship applications from foreign spouses received between 2006 and 2010 were granted.

The Singapore government’s CEDAW delegation was led by Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS). It comprised representatives from the Inter-Ministry Committee on CEDAW, Singapore’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.

More details about this session are available from the press releases issued by the UN and MCYS.

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