Our response to “A PhD’s fine, but what about love and babies?”
AWARE’s Letter to the Straits Times Forum Page, published September 13, 2011
The stark choice between motherhood and professional advancement presented in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s comments to Ms Joan Sim is not new (‘A PhD’s fine, but what about love and babies?’, Straits Times, Sept 6, 2011).
In 1983, he said: ‘We shouldn’t get our women into jobs where they cannot, at the same time, be mothers.’ In 1994, he said that ‘attractive and intelligent young ladies’ should go to finishing colleges so that they will be ‘marvellous helpers of their husband’s career’. And now, Ms Sim has been advised to stop wasting time on her doctorate and find a boyfriend instead.
These views contradict the recent statements by Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that gender equality is central to Singapore’s socio-economic growth and that ‘maximising the full potential of every individual, male or female, is a priority’.
Under CEDAW, the Government is obliged to ‘take appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of the conduct of men and women based on the idea of stereotypical roles of men and women’. However, state policies have not kept pace with social developments and changing gender roles.
Fathers are not entitled to paid paternity leave, reinforcing the social expectation that mothers should bear most of the caregiving responsibilities. Flexible working arrangements attractive to mothers of young children are not widely available. Infant care facilities are inadequate for the country’s needs.
Such policies make raising children a daunting prospect for working women who want to continue their careers after becoming mothers. The State should take the lead in making family a more attractive option for these women, starting with a change of governmental attitude and the policies stated above.
The Scandinavian countries have shown that appropriate state policies that counter social norms can reverse declining fertility rates.
Public statements made by influential figures like Mr Lee are also important to shaping social attitudes.
Remarks that imply that women belong at home and men should be primarily providers undermine the efforts of men and women who struggle every day to meet the demands of family and working life.
Implying that marriage and motherhood are more important than education and work belittles the choices and contributions of women who prefer to be single or childless.
Such comments also perpetuate sexist stereotypes for a younger generation.
President, Association Of Women For Action & Research (AWARE)
Read the published letter here.