May 30th, 2016

Commuters on the Northeast Line will soon learn about the problems faced by single parents

This post was first published as a press release on 28 May 2016.

From now until 12 August, a series of posters on Northeast Line stations will tell the true stories of two single parents – how a woman faced enormous obstacles to find housing for herself and her three children after her divorce, and how a man with four children suffered painful stigma and judgement after his divorce.

The striking posters are part of #asinglelove, an initiative by AWARE launched in March this year, in collaboration with Kinetic and Daughters Of Tomorrow, to build empathy for and stand up for single parents in Singapore.

Capture.jpg “We wanted to show the very real challenges that single parents face, and the best way to do that is to tell these real-life stories. We hope these stories – of challenge and courage – help to dispel stereotypes about and prejudices against single parents,” said Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager of AWARE.

The two people featured in the posters, Jesvinder Kaur and Wayne Toh, agreed to go public with their stories to help bring attention to the challenges faced by single parents.

Jesvinder, 42, a single mother of three who struggled with finding a permanent place to stay after her divorce, said, “I hope that by sharing my story and the lessons I learnt, I can encourage other single mothers to surmount the difficulties they might face in getting housing.”

After months of trying, Jesvinder eventually got a 1-room rental flat, but feared losing it because her job paid more than $1,500, the income ceiling for renting from HDB. “It was an emotionally devastating time. I had to find alternative accommodation, and it was a mad rush. I went into a lot of debt following the divorce, and I still had to feed the kids,” she shared.

Wayne Toh, 41, found himself faced with prejudice and stigma when others learnt that his marriage had ended. “The most difficult part of being a single parent suddenly, is managing my own emotions while at the same time handling the emotions and reactions of my children, parents, and in-laws. I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained. In those situations, I wish I had someone who was experienced enough to guide me and give me sound advice, so I could overcome it.”

He continued, “I’d like to see more public awareness and less discrimination. We don’t get married in order to have a divorce. Even though a marriage is torn apart, both my ex-wife and myself still remain our children’s parents, and life has to go on for both the single parents and the children.”

Different families, common struggles

In 2015, AWARE ran a research project to understand single parents’ access to public housing and to make recommendations for improving various policies and procedures that have an impact on single parents. A total of 54 single mothers, three single fathers and 25 children of single parents were interviewed on the housing difficulties they encountered.

From the interviews, it is clear that Jesvinder and Wayne are not outliers.  “Struggles with housing, employment, childcare, poverty and social stigma have a major impact on the well-being of single parents and their children,” said Jolene Tan of AWARE.

Noor Ashikin, 45, is a single mother of four who was left struggling financially after her marriage fell apart. She had been out of the job market for 14 years and fought hard for two more to find a job, while, at the same time, helping her sons cope with their new lives, living with relatives who grew increasingly uncomfortable with their bigger household, managing the family’s sparse finances, and dealing with her own anger, sadness and depression post-divorce.

“I never socialised. I never worked,” said Ashikin. “I didn’t know how to go about with things. At the time, I was going for counselling at PPIS. Even through that experience, I found out that I needed much more. If you get divorced and you were working full-time, there might be less issues because financially there is still something to lean on. But I didn’t have any of that support.”

Changing perceptions and policies

The #asinglelove campaign challenges the harmful discrimination against single-parent families, that affects their livelihood in very real ways. The movement seeks to:

  • Support and empower single parents through direct services and programmes.
  • Promote more supportive and equitable policies towards single parents.
  • Encourage more welcoming and inclusive attitudes toward single parents.

One recent cause for celebration was when the government announced that unwed mothers will receive 16 weeks of maternity leave, just like married mothers, and their children would be eligible for Child Development Accounts and receive the $3,000 First Step grant announced in the Budget this year.

Yet, as illustrated by the many experiences of single parents, unwed parents remain barred from HDB purchases (unless they are over 35), the Baby Bonus cash gift and various tax reliefs.  Their children remain “illegitimate” according to the law.  Divorced parents also struggle to access much-needed rentals due to a 30-month debarment on renting from HDB after the sale of their matrimonial flats, and the restrictive income ceiling that applies when they are eligible to rent once more.

Empowering single parents

As part of #asinglelove, Daughters Of Tomorrow’s (DOT) runs Employment Bridging and Confidence Curriculum trainings that offer skills training and employment-matching services for single mothers. DOT will also refer them to their network of social services partners for interim financial assistance.

Since the beginning of the campaign, DOT has run Confidence Curriculum workshops, job opportunities outreach programmes, employment referrals, a Mother’s Day dinner and an awards ceremony to profile success stories of single mothers.

It is through DOT’s programmes that Noor Ashikin has found her community, and her new job: helping other single mothers like her with their tough situations, and picking up new skills.

Said Carrie Tan, Executive Director of DOT, “The single mothers are able to form a circle of friendship and support with one another at the Confidence Curriculum, through which they discover and receive affirmation about their strengths. Many have shared that they feel uplifted in these weeks, and more confident to take positive steps towards employment and in their lives after having been through years of dejectedness and feelings of aloneness in their troubles.”

The #asinglelove movement will continue to raise the issue of support and equality for single parents to the public and policy-makers.

For more information on the programmes, events or queries on the campaign, visit www.asinglelove.sg, or contact Nabilah at media@aware.org.sg. You can also to request for an interview with Jesvinder Kaur, Wayne Toh or Noor Ashikin by contacting us.

 

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