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Friday, October 15, 2010

The Women's Charter

The government is proposing changes to the Women's Charter. "Last amended substantially in 1996, the Women’s Charter is the basis of family law in Singapore. The current review seeks to enhance the enforcement of maintenance orders, update marriage registration requirements, and address the impact of divorces." See source of text here.

The government has asked for feedback to the Women's Charter. And I am finally getting around to doing just that. It really is lovely that the government actually asked!!

I don't like the thing about the maintenance order. On the face of it, it seems to help. But in substance, these measures will disempower women. A maintenance order that compels a man to pay his wife maintenance is premised on the assumption that "It is the man's job to earn wages for women and children". It lays the responsibility of wage earning squarely on the men.

With responsibility, comes power.

These new amendments effectively give more power to men. I know the logic is convoluted but think of it this way. If it is the man who should earn money to upkeep women, more and more women will stay home... and more and more women will give up career and earnings... and more and more women will be locked in an unequal power relationship with their men (because the one who has the money or earns the wages has more power). Power corrupts. More and more women will be abused. And then the government will have to police other problems.

It is far better to amend the charter in a counter-intuitive way. I suggest that we go the way of the Swedes. "In 1995, Sweden passed a simple but revolutionary law: couples would lose one month of leave unless the father was the one who took it. A second use-it-or-lose-it month was added in 2002, and now more than 80 percent of Swedish fathers take four months off for the birth of a new child, up from 4 percent a decade ago. And a full 41 percent of companies now formally encourage fathers to go on parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993. Simply put, men are expected to work less and father more.

By altering the roles of the Swedish father and the Swedish worker, Sweden’s paternity-leave legislation has, in turn, rewritten the rules for Swedish men (and, by extension, women). “Swedish dads of my generation and younger have been raised to feel competent at child-rearing,” writes Slate’s Nathan Hegedus, an American who experienced the system firsthand. “They simply expect to do it, just as their wives and partners expect it of them.” If a man refuses time at home with the kids, he faces questions from friends, family, and, yes, other guys. Policy changes produced personal changes—and then, slowly but surely, society changed as well." Find the source of this text here.

By making it alright for men to care for children, more women will feel able to work. At present, too many highly educated women opt to stay at home for the children, and when a marriage turns sour, women and children suffer because compelling a man to pay maintenance is easier said than done. When young ladies witness such stories of pain and abandonment, they immediately start to think "If I marry, the kids will retard my career progression... and if the marriage turns sour, I will have neither wealth nor love AND I still am stuck with the kids. If I earn enough to amass wealth, then why get married? Hard work and consistent investment will get me wealth. Hard work and consistent investment may not get me a good marriage." As a result, fewer marriages happen.

Blur Ting's example is classic. Her ex-husband has gone AWOL and if she were waiting around for maintenance, she'd have starved to death by now. Happily enough, Blur Ting is one smart woman - beautiful, empowered and strong. She had never stopped working even through the years of an abusive marriage. As such, when divorce happened, she was able to give her kids a good education.

Besides, the men won't like the obvious gender inequality in our legislation either. It makes it easy for gold diggers to entrap men. At the end of the day, mutual respect is founded on an equal power relationship in the home. It sounds cynical, but it is true. Make it alright for men to look after babies. This encourages women to work. Men and women will respect each other's contribution to the marriage (whether child care or financial)... and marriages will be stronger because neither party has an occasion to abuse power.


Fresh Fry aka 福星 said...

logical + rational, but i doubt the guts of our govt to take it. and the wisdom of our masses to see in this light.

Blur Ting said...

Yes, we've all progressed. Both men and women receive education and equal opportunities, hence we (including the rules) must move with the times.

Malar said...

I don't live in Singapore but the Ideology is really great!

BERNABEE said...

Am i glad for an avenue to tat at last let me voice my greviance

One statement only today:
1) the govt of Spore take away the maintenance order and replace it for something else more effective:woman finding a better job better career upgrading courese etc instead on leaning on her ex husband for feeding her till the last day of her life any where down the line she s not with her spouse she married years or long long time from.