SINGAPORE: The Government released the White Paper on Singapore’s Women’s Development on Monday (Mar 28), with proposals for 25 action plans in five key areas.
The five areas are equal opportunities in the workplace, recognition and support for caregivers, protection against violence and harm, other support measures for women and mindset shifts.
Among the key announcements, the Government proposed that women aged 21 to 35 years old should be allowed to freeze their eggs regardless of marital status, and that the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices should be enshrined in law.
Under the White Paper, a new set of Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements should be introduced by 2024, and the Home Caregiving Grant should be doubled for beneficiaries from lower-income households.
The 25 action plans will be implemented over 10 years, and a mid-point review will be conducted in 2027, the Government proposed.
The 60th anniversary of the Women’s Charter last year created an opportunity to bring together people who were interested in women’s development to “examine ideas that were a little bit closer to the edge”, said Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo.
“(Ideas) that society previously was not so keen to address – workplace fairness was one, egg freezing is another. I think it presented itself as a good opportunity.
“There was another factor in the background that helped. It was the idea that Singapore, (after the) pandemic hit, going through the deepest recession since independence and having to ask ourselves, what does it take for us to emerge stronger together? And how do we rally the whole of society?” said Mrs Teo, who is also chairperson of the People’s Action Party’s Women’s Wing.
The White Paper was developed after a series of engagements between the public and private sectors as well as non-governmental organisations. It was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in September last year at the closing session of the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development.
“The White Paper ultimately puts us in a better position than we were before we had it. The value of the White Paper is in sensitising the whole of society to the need to continue to look after women’s interests,” said Mrs Teo.
“It sensitises and raises the awareness that women still need our support in many ways. And it is very much up to each one of us in our respective roles to try and give the women in our lives the support that they need in order to fulfil their aspirations.”
25 action plans in the White Paper on Women’s Development
Here are the 25 action plans laid out in the White Paper on Women’s Development at a glance.
Area 1: Equal opportunities in the workplace
- Action 1: Introduce new workplace fairness legislation
- Action 2: Entrench flexible work arrangements as a workplace norm
- Action 3: Develop career mentorship, networking opportunities and training programmes for women at work and re-entering the workforce
- Action 4: Encourage greater utilisation of parental leave entitlements
- Action 5: Revised Singapore Exchange Listing Rules and Practice Guidance to the Code of Corporate Governance to support greater board diversity, including gender diversity
- Action 6: Increase women’s representation on boards with efforts led by the Council for Board Diversity
Area 2: Recognition and support for caregivers
- Action 7: Ease caregivers’ load
- Action 8: Reduce caregivers’ financial strain and encourage care in the community
- Action 9: Enhance support for women and children
- Action 10: Ramp up awareness of caregiver support initiatives and provide community support
- Action 11: Enhance support for caregivers of people with disabilities and children with developmental needs
Area 3: Protection against violence and harm
- Action 12: Revised sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences
- Action 13: Enhance protection for victim-survivors of family violence
- Action 14: Raise awareness and accessibility of resources for victims of online harms
- Action 15: Strengthen support and awareness of resources to address workplace harassment
- Action 16: Implement a national framework to promote safe sport
- Action 17: Promote values of respect and safety through education
Area 4: Other support measures for women
- Action 18: Enhance support for single parents
- Action 19: Enhance support for divorcing or divorced women
- Action 20: Enhance support for low-income families with children
- Action 21: Provide women the choice to undergo elective egg freezing
Area 5: Mindset shifts
- Action 22: Updated the Women’s Charter to better reflect women’s equal status as men in marriage
- Action 23: Address mental models arising from societal stereotypes
- Action 24: Develop gender-responsive standards under the Singapore Standardisation Programme
- Action 25: Dedicate a public garden to honour and celebrate pioneering spirit of Singapore women
EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES IN THE WORKPLACE
The first of the five areas addressed in the White Paper is equal opportunities in the workplace.
Singapore has made “significant progress” in providing equal opportunities in the workplace, and the employment rate of women aged 25 to 64 increased from 53 per cent in 1994 to 75 per cent in 2021, the Government noted in the White Paper.
In 2021, 13 per cent of Singapore companies were helmed by a female CEO, and more women have taken on leadership roles. But women still face disadvantages, the White Paper read.
Singapore should strengthen its laws to address unfair employment practices, the paper continued. But the Government needs to work with its tripartite partners to avoid the “litigious workplace culture” of some countries.
The White Paper proposes that the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices be enshrined in law, and that the Tripartite Committee on Fair Workplace Practices looks at new proposals to allow people to report workplace discrimination.
The law will protect the confidentiality of those who come forward and protect them from retaliation, and require workplaces to put in place grievance handling processes.
A new set of Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements is proposed to be introduced by 2024, which will require employers to consider such requests from employees “fairly and properly”.
The Government aims to create a workplace norm where employees feel that it is acceptable to request flexible work arrangements, while maintaining the employers’ prerogative to accept or reject requests based on their business needs, it said in the White Paper.
It aims to increase the adoption of the voluntary Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements by employers to 40 per cent by the end of this year, up from the current 27 per cent.
Steps will also be taken to encourage greater utilisation of parental leave entitlements.
For “more equitable representation” of women in leadership positions, the Singapore Exchange Listing Rules and Practice Guidance to the Code of Corporate Governance were revised to enhance board diversity, including gender diversity, in listed companies.
“This is a significant move to secure listed companies’ commitment to appoint more women on boards,” the White Paper read.
White Paper on Women’s Development: Women can undergo elective egg freezing regardless of marital status
Standards on fair employment practices to become law; new guidelines on flexible work arrangements under White Paper proposals
Home Caregiving Grant to double to S$400 for lower-income households under White Paper proposals
RECOGNISING AND SUPPORTING CAREGIVERS
The second area addressed by the White Paper is recognising the contributions of caregivers and supporting their efforts.
More affordable, available and accessible respite care options for seniors will give caregivers more flexibility and let them take time off to recharge, the White Paper read.
The Household Services Scheme, which allows households to tap on part-time household services, will be broadened to better support caregivers.
The White Paper proposed that the Home Caregiving Grant should be doubled from S$200 to S$400 for lower-income households.
Beneficiaries with a monthly per capita household income of up to S$1,200, who live in a residence with an annual value of up to S$13,000, will receive S$400. Those with a monthly per capita household income of between S$1,201 and S$2,800 will receive S$250.
The Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund has also been expanded to defray part of the costs incurred by caregivers in caring for seniors.
The next action in this area is to boost support for women and children, including enhancing access to affordable and quality pre-schools.
An inter-agency task force has been set up to develop a child and maternal health and well-being strategy. This includes giving every pregnant woman access to quality maternal care services, said the Government in the White Paper.
The White Paper also spelt out two action plans for society to support caregivers’ well-being.
To ramp up awareness of caregiver support initiatives, the Government proposes to promote the Agency for Integrated Care as a one-stop resource for caregivers of seniors. It will also work with community partners to form peer support networks for caregivers to better connect them to the support they need.
To help families better support their caregivers, the Retirement Sum Topping-up Scheme tax relief cap was increased from S$7,000 to S$8,000 from January, for both top-ups to self and family members.
The Government will also explore ways to diversify the top-up sources for the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme to help older Singaporeans accumulate the Basic Retirement Sum.
“This will encourage more family members to contribute towards meeting caregivers’ retirement needs, especially those who have sacrificed higher earnings and retirement savings,” the White Paper read.
The Government also plans to enhance support for caregivers of people with disabilities and children with developmental needs. This includes enhancing support for pre-school children with developmental needs and their caregivers.
PROTECTION AGAINST VIOLENCE AND HARM
The third area, protection against violence and harm, covers six action plans laid out in the White Paper.
In revising the sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences, Singapore has increased the penalties for three sexual offences in the Penal Code.
The sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences was most recently reviewed in 2021, to ensure that the punishments reflect that such acts are “deeply offensive to our fundamental values”, the White Paper read.
“The home in particular should be a safe space. Unfortunately, instances of family violence still occur, and more can be done to tackle it and support victim-survivors,” it continued.
Thus, in enhancing protection for survivors of family violence, the Government has accepted in principle all the recommendations by the Taskforce on Family Violence, and they will be implemented over the next few years.
These measures include enhancing the family violence response framework and raising awareness through public education efforts, it said in the White Paper.
The Government also plans to raise awareness and accessibility of resources for victims of online harms.
“The online space also needs greater attention and intervention,” the White Paper read, noting the recent formation of the Alliance for Action to tackle online harms, especially those targeted at women and girls.
Three action plans are dedicated to reinforcing a culture of safety and respect in society.
These include strengthening support and awareness of resources to address workplace harassment, implementing a national framework to promote safe sports, and promoting the values of respect and safety through education.
Pre-school teachers will be trained to teach children about body safety awareness and to tell trusted adults if they feel unsafe, the White Paper proposed. Institutes of Higher Learning are also implementing compulsory modules on respect and appropriate behaviour.
“Laws and policies that reinforce a culture of safety and respect must be coupled with everyday actions and habits by all Singaporeans. Parents play a key role in educating their children from young. Men can actively speak out against disrespect and objectification of women,” the White Paper read.
“We all have a role to ensure Singapore continues to be a place where men and women alike feel safe, secure, and are able to participate fully in society.”
OTHER SUPPORT MEASURES FOR WOMEN
The fourth area provides for other support measures for women, with four action plans.
“We must be mindful of women who need more help owing to their circumstances. No Singaporean should be left behind,” the White Paper read.
“Some groups of women may be more vulnerable as they face greater financial and emotional stressors, and need more help with employment, socio-emotional support and caregiving. We must actively walk alongside them, to care for and support them.”
If the White Paper is passed, women aged 21 to 35 will be able to choose to undergo egg freezing in Singapore regardless of their marital status, with “sufficient safeguards” to ensure they make an informed choice.
Only legally married couples will be able to use the frozen eggs for procreation. Currently, egg freezing in Singapore is only permitted for medical reasons.
The Government will also enhance support for single parents and divorcing or divorced women, it proposed in the White Paper.
Most recently, the option for couples to file for divorce by mutual agreement was introduced, with an extended mandatory parenting programme for those with children who are minors.
Under the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships, the Government will work with community partners to strengthen support for single parents, the majority of whom are mothers, the White Paper read.
“This includes access to information, alternative childcare arrangements, flexible employment opportunities and socio-emotional support,” it continued.
The Government has also partnered with non-governmental organisation Daughters of Tomorrow to pilot a child-minding service to ease the caregiving load on lower-income families including single mothers, it said in the White Paper.
The final area with four action plans aims to tackle mindset shifts.
“Singapore women have achieved significant progress over the years. Today, it has become a norm that women should be equally recognised, respected and empowered with opportunities. However, this was considered radical just a few decades before,” the White Paper read.
Policy and legislative changes have removed “many overt obstacles” in the way of women’s development, making available more opportunities to the younger generations.
“But underpinning the success of these policies are mindset shifts on gender stereotypes, which require a whole-of-society effort beyond government policies. We must continue to change mindsets towards a fairer and more inclusive society, which will set the pace for further progress in Singapore women’s development.
“For our other action plans to be effective, we must continue to identify and overcome persistent stereotypes and unhelpful mindsets. Singapore can achieve much more with men and women standing as equal partners and contributors to society.”
The Government has amended the Women’s Charter to reflect that men and women are recognised as equal and separate legal persons and are afforded the same rights today, the White Paper noted.
Previously, it had listed the specific rights and obligations of a married woman, which was “a product of historical legacy” and is no longer relevant today.
Character and Citizenship Education in schools has also been enhanced to address gender-based mental stereotypes more directly, especially those that impact women in their career choices and roles in a family, the Government said in the White Paper.
“As a society, we can support these efforts by modelling equitable and supportive relationships between men and women for our children.”
To develop gender-responsive standards to ensure that products and processes are safe and reliable, Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Standards Council will advocate for greater gender diversity in standards development, the White Paper proposed.
Finally, to reflect the “enduring importance” of women’s development in Singapore, the Government proposed to work with the community in designing and dedicating a public garden in the city centre to “honour and celebrate the pioneering spirit and the contributions of Singapore women”.
This White Paper encapsulates a shared vision and values, and sets out action plans for the whole of society to advance women’s development in Singapore together, said the Government.
“We will create more opportunities in a rapidly changing world to secure a better future for ourselves and our future generations,” it said in the White Paper.
“The Government calls on every Singaporean to overcome gender stereotypes in our everyday actions that restrict or limit what women can do or become.
“Together, we can make Singapore a fairer and more inclusive society for future generations of Singaporeans – women and men, girls and boys alike.”