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Govt puts up White Paper to tackle wide-ranging issues on women’s development in Singapore

SINGAPORE — The Government has produced a White Paper on women’s development for Singapore to move towards “a fairer and more inclusive society” for men and women in workplaces and at home, mapping out 25 action plans to take place over the next decade.

Govt puts up White Paper to tackle wide-ranging issues on women’s development in Singapore
  • The Government submitted a White Paper on women's development to Parliament on Monday
  • The White Paper lays out recommendations to support women's aspirations and address challenges they face
  • The recommendations span five areas, including creating equal opportunities for women in the workplace and supporting caregivers
  • Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo said that the White Paper raises the awareness that women still need support in many ways

SINGAPORE — The Government has produced a White Paper on women’s development for Singapore to move towards “a fairer and more inclusive society” for men and women in workplaces and at home, mapping out 25 action plans to take place over the next decade.

Among other things, the White Paper recommends the legalisation of elective egg freezing for women aged 21 to 35 regardless of their marital status, reducing the financial strain on caregivers by enhancing the Home Caregiving Grant and normalising flexible workplace arrangements.

The White Paper, which was presented to Parliament on Monday (March 28), comes after a nationwide conversation was launched in September 2020 to gather views from Singaporeans on issues affecting women, such as gender equality and respect for women.

The year-long engagement involved almost 6,000 Singaporeans in the public and private sectors, as well as non-governmental organisations.

In an executive summary of the White Paper provided to the media, the Government said that despite Singapore’s achievements and progress, there remain areas where women face barriers and challenges.

These areas include the workplace, where some women “continue to face glass ceilings” and “persistent discrepancies” in gender roles at home.

While incidents of violence and harm against women are less common in society, a single incident “is still one too many”, noted the paper.

“For Singapore to become an even fairer and more inclusive society, we must continue to evolve our mindsets on gender roles and address the practical challenges that women face.

“Both women and men should have real choices to pursue different aspirations at various stages of life, without feeling like they must adhere to gender stereotypes or ‘have it all’ to be fulfilled,” said the paper.

In a media briefing on the White Paper, Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo said in response to TODAY that it was the 60th anniversary of the Women’s Charter last year which created an opportunity for the Government to give women’s development “a bigger push”.

This included taking the opportunity to examine ideas that society "was not previously so keen to address", such as workplace fairness and egg freezing, said Mrs Teo, who is also the chairperson of the People’s Action Party’s Women’s Wing.

As part of efforts to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government also felt that it should focus on women’s issues, too, in addition to other issues such as social mobility and strengthening the social compact, she added.

COLLECTIVE ACTION PLANS 

The White Paper sets out 25 collective action plans to support the aspirations of women and address the challenges they face at different stages of their lives.

The action plans, some of which are already implemented, cover five main areas: Equal opportunities in the workplace, recognition and support for caregivers, protection against violence and harm, other support measures for women, and mindset shifts.

The following are the collective action plans for each area:

Equal opportunities in the workplace

  • Introduce new workplace fairness legislation
  • Entrench flexible work arrangements as a workplace norm
  • Develop career mentorship, networking opportunities and training programmes for women at work and re-entering the workforce
  • Encourage greater use of parental leave entitlements
  • Revised guidelines in the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules to support gender diversity
  • Increase women’s representation on boards with efforts led by the Council for Board Diversity

Recognition and support for caregivers

  • Ease caregivers’ load
  • Reduce caregivers' financial strain and encourage care in the community
  • Enhance support for women and children
  • Ramp up awareness of caregiver support initiatives and provide community support
  • Enhance support for caregivers of persons with disabilities and children with developmental needs

Protection against violence and harm

  • Revised sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences
  • Enhance protection for victim-survivors of family violence
  • Raise awareness and accessibility of resources for victims of online harms
  • Strengthen support and awareness of resources to address workplace harassment
  • Implement a national framework to promote Safe Sport, which is a set of guidelines that describe forms of abuse and harassment which may occur in the sporting environment
  • Promote values of respect and safety through education

Other support measures for women

  • Enhance support for single parents
  • Enhance support for divorcing or divorced women
  • Enhance support for low-income families with children
  • Provide women the choice to undergo elective egg freezing

Mindset shifts

  • Updated the Women’s Charter to better reflect women’s equal status as men in marriage
  • Address mental models arising from societal stereotypes
  • Develop a national standard that takes into consideration the impact that one's gender, such as body strength or size, has on the design and performance of a product or service  
  • Dedicate a public garden to honour and celebrate pioneering spirit of Singapore women

The action plans will be implemented over the next 10 years, with a mid-point review to be conducted in 2027.

MOVING THE NEEDLE ON GENDER NORMS

In comments to the media, Mrs Teo said that the White Paper puts Singapore "in a better position" than before it was produced.

She was asked by TODAY whether the laid-out plans would be able to move the needle on gender norms and stereotypes — for example, whether it could shift stereotypes on the sharing of housework in domestic settings.

"This is where I think the Government acknowledges that it will not, and cannot, be the only party involved in pushing for social change," said Mrs Teo.

She added that how far the needle moves depends on how actively involved the entire society is.

"The value of the White Paper is in sensitising the whole society to the need to continue to look after women’s interest, and raising awareness that women still need our support in many ways," said Mrs Teo.

"It is an ongoing conversation... I hope that it sustains. I hope that it makes everyone think a little bit harder about what they can do for women."

REACTIONS FROM WOMEN'S GROUPS

In response to TODAY's queries, Ms Fannie Lim, the executive director of Daughters of Tomorrow, said that the charity, which supports underprivileged women, had offered several recommendations while participating in discussions on the White Paper.

Its recommendations included automatically granting additional infant and childcare subsidies to mothers receiving financial assistance from ComCare and providing alternative and safe childcare options besides infant care and childcare centres to help mothers, especially those in the low-income groups, find employment.

Besides the recommendations in the White Paper, Ms Lim also suggested that the authorities look into providing divorcing women with access to public rental housing while their divorce proceedings are underway.

Among other things, she suggested providing perpetrators of family violence with temporary shelter and provisions for rehabilitation. 

"Alongside the recommendations proposed, Daughters of Tomorrow would like to take this opportunity to invite relevant authorities to actively include women from lower-income communities in the policy-making process," added Ms Lim.

In a statement on Monday, the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) Women and Family Unit, which supports work-life initiative and employment initiatives for working women, backed the initiatives in the White Paper.

The unit was one of the co-organisers of the year-long conversations on women’s development.

It said that the proposed action plans "will go far to build progressive and inclusive workplaces" for women. 

The unit added that it is heartened by the greater emphasis placed on protecting women at workplaces in the White Paper. 

"We strongly believe that all women should be given equal opportunities at the workplace and should not be subjected to any form of discrimination or harassment," said NTUC's Women and Family Unit in its statement.

Related topics

women women's charter

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