White Paper on Women's Development

By Neal Kok


https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/25-action-plans-from-the-white-paper-on-singapore-womens-development


On 28 March 2022, the Government released the White Paper on Singapore’s Women’s Development, detailing 25 action plans in five key areas: (i) Equal opportunities in the workplace; (ii) Recognition and support for caregivers; (iii) Protection against violence and harm; (iv) Other support measures for women; (v) Mindset shifts. This has been regarded by Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo as a welcome consequence of the series of engagements between the public and private sectors that were sparked by the 60th anniversary of the Women’s Charter in 2021. [1]


The purpose of the White Paper is to increase awareness and sensitivity to the needs of women and to sensitise the Singaporean society to the need to continue to look after women’s interests. The 25 action plans proposed by the Government are intended to be implemented over the next 10 years.


Turning first to the area of equal opportunities in the workplace, the White Paper set out the Government’s aim to create a workplace norm where employees are not hesitant to request flexible work arrangements, to be granted at the employer’s discretion. It further expressed the Government’s intention to enhance gender diversity in leadership positions and to enable employees to report workplace discrimination with greater ease.


The second area is concerned with recognition and support for caregivers, with the objective of providing better support for caregivers. The proposed actions include increasing the grant available for lower-income households, and for costs incurred by caregivers in caring for seniors, those with disabilities, and children with developmental needs. The Government further expressed their intention to increase awareness of caregiver support initiatives such as by promoting the Agency for Integrated Care as a one-stop resource for caregivers of seniors.


The third area, protection against violence and harm, is a welcome addition to the recent revision of the sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences last year to more accurately reflect the degree of harm and violation of society’s fundamental values. [2] The actions in this area concern both the legal protection and the cultural underpinnings of violence in society. The legal protection is achieved by the enhancement of the family violence response framework stipulated in the White Paper. The nurturing of a culture of safety and respect in society is achieved through the education system, and includes, for instance, the equipping of pre-school teachers to teach children about body safety awareness and communication with trusted parents regarding their own safety.


The fourth area provides for other support measures for women, looking out particularly for some groups of women who may be more vulnerable and require greater socio-economic support. The White Paper identified single parents, divorced women, and low-income families with children as such groups. Under this heading lies another action—providing women the choice to undergo elective egg freezing. Under the current law, egg freezing is only permitted for medical reasons, but the White Paper proposes that women aged 21–35 will be able to choose to undergo egg freezing regardless of their marital status, though only legally married couples will be able to use the frozen eggs for procreation. [3]


The final area has the objective of facilitating a mindset shift in Singapore. This objective stems from the norm and need to recognise, respect, and empower women as equals to men. The White Paper proposes actions such as tackling gender stereotypes about careers and equity of familial roles through education and updating the Women’s Charter to better reflect women’s equal status to men in marriage. Another novel action is the dedication of a public garden to honour and celebrate the contributions of Singaporean women.


The White Paper on Women’s Development may thus be observed to play a substantive and symbolic role in reflecting the status of women in Singapore. It is hoped that, should it be passed, it will inform Singapore’s future developments, in addition to securing the appropriate protection and respect for all members of society.




References

[1] Ang Hwee Min, CNA, ‘White Paper on Women’s Development proposes 25 action plans to be implemented over 10 years’, <https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/white-paper-womens-development-25-action-plans-10-years-2591096>, accessed 01 April 2022

[2] Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, ‘25 action plans from the White Paper on Singapore Women's Development’, <https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/25-action-plans-from-the-white-paper-on-singapore-womens-development>, accessed 01 April 2022

[3] Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, ‘Singapore to allow women, including singles, to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons’, < https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapore-to-allow-women-including-singles-to-freeze-their-eggs-for-non-medical-reasons >, accessed 01 April 2022