Women’s Charter

What is the Women’s Charter?

The Women’s Charter first took shape as an election promise by the People’s Action Party, and came into effect in 1961. Introduced at a time when polygamy was a common practice and the legal rights of women here were murkily defined, it marked a great leap forward for gender equality in Singapore.

By making monogamy for non-Muslim Singaporeans the legal norm and by framing marriage as “the equal cooperative partnership of different kinds of efforts for the mutual well-being of the spouses”, the Charter effectively gave married women the same rights as their husbands for the first time.

Among other things, the Charter provides for the rights of husbands and wives in marriage and the legal potentialities of separation and divorce. The latest amendments to the Charter were passed in January, 2011, and introduced provisions to facilitate marriages in Singapore, address divorce and its impact, and strengthen the enforcement of maintenance orders.

Our advocacy efforts

In late 2010, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) called for public consultation on changes to the Women’s Charter.

AWARE has been active in campaigning for the Charter to be amended, so as to set up a central body to collect maintenance payments on behalf of wives. We believe that the proposed amendments to enhance maintenance enforcement procedures do not go far enough to address the issue of default in maintenance payments.

AWARE also called for the Women’s Charter to be made more gender-neutral by allowing men to claim maintenance from their wives in appropriate circumstances, and for the Charter to be renamed the Family Charter.

AWARE is disappointed that none of our recommendations were adopted.

Read our full submission to MCYS on suggested changes to the Women’s Charter here.

Read then-MCYS Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s speech on the changes to the Women’s Charter Bill here.

Read AWARE Executive Director Corinna Lim’s article “Is the Women’s Charter Unfair to Men?” here.

Read the new Women’s Charter (full text) here.