March 13th, 2012

An opportunity for gender equality at home

AWARE sent this letter about mandatory days off for foreign domestic workers to the Straits Times Forum last week.

AWARE applauds the decision to implement mandatory rest days for foreign domestic workers here (“Weekly day off for maids a must from next year”, Straits Times, March 6).

Beyond the issue of rest days being a fundamental human right for all employees, as many NGOs have already pointed out, this is also a valuable opportunity to start changing the fact that the domestic sphere is still overwhelmingly women’s domain in Singapore.

The huge influx of female foreign domestic workers has further entrenched gendered expectations regarding household chores as well as the care of children and the elderly in families.

Women who hire domestic workers may be freed from some domestic and caregiving tasks, but nonetheless continue to be responsible for the management of domestic affairs in their households.

Within this gendered system, men have limited space to learn and partake in the labour and privilege of care.

Although a single day off a week will do little to alter the system as a whole, it will perhaps give men some opportunity to share in household work and caregiving. Gender egalitarianism should start at home; in this way, the mandatory day-off for domestic workers can mean not just a healthier work-life balance for them but also for their employers, both men and women.

The dignity offered to foreign domestic workers as workers is also necessary if we are to teach our children good values. Singaporean children who grow up with domestic workers as caregivers should know that the women who care for them are workers in the same ways their parents are workers – with rights to rest, leisure, and sociability. They should see that their availability as caregivers is not infinite and that there are boundaries that should be respected. Moreover, girls and boys should have opportunities to see that their mothers and fathers are equal partners in the family. We owe our children at least these lessons.

Assistant Professor Teo You Yenn
Board Member, AWARE

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