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3 ways to measure Singapore’s progress to a truly gender-equal society

The vision outlined in the Government’s White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development last month is commendable. 

3 ways to measure Singapore’s progress to a truly gender-equal society

The author said that a question which has been relatively under-discussed is how Singapore will track progress towards gender equality.

Lee Yoke Mun, project executive, Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware)

The vision outlined in the Government’s White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development last month is commendable. 

Measures such as the upcoming anti-discrimination legislation and increased financial support for caregivers have been pushed for by various advocates, including Aware.

However, a question that has been relatively under-discussed is how we will track this progress towards gender equality. It’s one thing to talk about end goals for Singapore, but what targets are we setting to ensure that we’re on the right path?

Here are a few concrete suggestions.

One: We need to pay attention to our labour force participation rates (LFPRs).

As the White Paper points out, the onus of caregiving continues to fall on women. This contributes to the gap in LFPRs between the genders. 

In 2021, data from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed that the LFPR for males aged 15 and above stood at 77.2 per cent ー13 percentage points above the female LFPR of 64.2 per cent. If women participated at the same rates as men, we’d add a whopping 225,000 people to our workforce.

A reduction in LFPR disparity should follow the implementation of measures set forth in the White Paper to better protect women in the workplace, improve caregiver support and shift mindsets. Ideally, we should aim to reduce this gap to less than five percentage points in 10 years’ time. 

Two: The gender wage gapーparticularly, the unadjusted figureーshould be monitored more closely.

There is some disagreement over whether the unadjusted or adjusted gender pay gap is more useful as an indicator of inequality.

MOM said in 2020 that the adjusted number (4.3 per cent) is a "better measure of whether men and women are paid equally for doing similar work".

Yet that does not paint the full picture of gender inequality when it comes to work and pay. The unadjusted pay gap (14.4 per cent) reflects the fact that women are doing different (and generally lower-paying) work from men. Most of the time, this is not by choice: Low-wage jobs tend to afford women more flexibility, which they require to juggle care.

We should therefore examine the unadjusted wage gap every year to guide our plans moving forward, rather than focusing on the measure of similar work. 

As the action plans are being rolled out, targets need to be established for reducing the unadjusted gender wage gap at regular intervals, with the goal of getting it below 10 per cent at the end of the next decade.

Three: We should consider a means of identification for family caregivers, to which caregiver support and benefits can be tied.

Such a “caregiver passport” would further centralise and streamline Singapore’s efforts to support caregivers by simplifying the process of seeking support (such as the Home Caregiving Grant), thus reducing the stress that they currently face navigating various schemes and resources.

Those with the passport should also be able to enjoy other benefits that grant them added support and financial relief. This will allow us to track the utilisation of the relevant schemes and identify gaps in our system where needs are not met and where we can improve.

In our workplaces, we aim to set Smart goals, that is goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. 

We should do the same for Singapore, and in that way turn our vision of a truly gender-equal society into a reality.

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Related topics

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