Support for homemakers must go beyond verbal tributes
By Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager, AWARE
This letter was written for the Straits Times Forum, responding to this letter, but was not published as some points were seen as irrelevant to the career woman vs. stay-at-home-mom debate. We are publishing the letter here to discuss how society can provide more support for caregivers – women or men.
We agree with Mr Sebastian Liew that society needs to better recognise the value of domestic labour, childcare and other caregiving (“What’s wrong with being a housewife?”, 24 Sep).
A true recognition of homemakers and their contributions must go beyond verbal tributes. We should ask whether Singapore’s social and economic structures sufficiently reward and protect those who perform domestic labour and caregiving.
This can be improved in several respects.
First, provision for retirement is linked to CPF savings, which is only available to those in the formal workforce. Because many women are homemakers, women of retirement age generally enjoy less financial security than men.
This impacts their access to healthcare. Among elderly patients, far more women (64 per cent) than men (38 per cent) need to tap into family members’ Medisave to pay their hospital bills.
A society that values homemakers needs to decouple financial security for the elderly from CPF adequacy based on formal employment. A social pension could meet this need.
Second, we can give more security to the non-national spouses of Singapore citizens.
Currently, these spouses – who are often parents of Singaporean children – are routinely denied permanent residence and citizenship. This happens particularly when the Singaporean’s spouse income and education are deemed insufficient.
The Long-Term Visit Pass-Plus given to some spouses is not adequate as they are still susceptible to deportation – and separation from their children – if pass renewals are not approved.
This cannot persist if our nation wishes to show genuine commitment to valuing homemakers.
Third, a society that values domestic labour and caregiving would not assume this work is only for women, and would provide support to everyone who performs it.
We could legislate more generous care leave entitlements, which families could share between themselves to suit their needs, regardless of gender.
In a culture that takes domestic responsibilities seriously, it would also be the norm rather than an exception for employees to have working arrangements that accommodate their caregiving roles.
Finally, to accord due status to domestic and care labour, we might question the discriminatory exclusion of foreign domestic workers from the Employment Act and its protections.
Ultimately, rhetorical celebrations of homemakers must not obscure the need for practical support and recognition for the labour they perform.