November 9th, 2012

Gender equality must take centrestage in shaping population policies

It is not short-term materialism that discourages Singaporeans from having children, but realistic evaluations of how much they need to bear in terms of costs for care for elderly parents, the healthcare needs of their families, and their own retirement needs in an expensive city.

Make gender equality a guiding principle in shaping population policies – This was the key thrust of AWARE’s recommendations to the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), in response to their efforts to engage the public on Singapore’s population challenges.

In our submission to the NPTD in October, AWARE reaffirmed our stance that gender equality should be the core value in the formation and execution of all population policies.

The perpetuation of obsolete gender norms, which have cast men as breadwinners and women as caregivers, are neither realistic nor fair for women and men living in today’s world. These rigid roles instead deprive couples of the ability to share parental duties effectively, and also neglect the needs of women in the Singaporean workforce.

The ineffectiveness of existing policies to promote marriage and parenthood has made it apparent that more needs to be to combat sinking birthrates and an ageing population in Singapore.

One of the key questions posed by the NPTD acknowleges this issue, asking how Singapore can provide a more supportive environment for marriage and parenthood.

To this end, AWARE recommends that the government provide 2 weeks of paid paternity leave, and convert 4 weeks of the 16-week maternity leave to parental leave, which could be taken by either parent. In addition to these measures, AWARE also advocates for heightened efforts to prevent discrimination against pregnant employees, and those intending to take paternity leave.

Late marriages were also identified as a factor contributing to the declining birth rates, and the NPTD sought suggestions on how to encourage couples to marry and have children at a younger age.

In our submission, AWARE clarified that there is no causal relationship between early marriage and having more children. In any case, given the high cost of living, the emphasis on education and work, and the national ethos to be self-reliant, it may not be possible or cost-effective to try to reverse the trend of later marriage.

Instead, AWARE proposes that the government provide support for alternative modes of parenting, such as adoption, and promote the use of technologies that enable older women to have babies later in life.

Additionally, AWARE would like to underline the need to recognise that Singaporeans are making childbearing decisions in a holistic and responsible manner, taking into account the responsibilities involved in raising a child and the capacities required to build long-term stable homes.

It is not short-term materialism that discourages Singaporeans from having children, but realistic evaluations of how much they need to bear in terms of costs for care for elderly parents, the healthcare needs of their families, and their own retirement needs in an expensive city.

Efforts to ensure that population growth increases cannot therefore focus on ineffective immediate cash payouts and bonuses, and must shift to addressing the wider concerns of couples considering having children.

Policies must take into account these concerns. In particular, steps should be taken to reform the education system to reduce pressure on children, lower the cost of public housing, and expand support for caregivers as well as the disabled and the elderly.

AWARE believes that adopting a more comprehensive approach is also the solution to raising productivity and improving the participation of our labour force.

In particular, providing support for women is critical to building a sustainable Singaporean core in our workforce. Creating opportunities and offering subsidies for stay-at-home caregivers to upgrade their skills and remain relevant will allow them to ensure employability.

In our submission, AWARE also highlighted the numerous impediments faced by women intending to join the workforce. These include the lack of flexible work, long hours, lack of access to childcare, and discrimination faced by pregnant women.

The government has to address these concerns if it intends to encourage women saddled with the dual burden of providing care for their families and working to remain in or re-enter the workforce.

Read AWARE’s submission in full here.

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