Good law should ensure equal opportunities

The proposed changes to the Women's Charter would allow a former husband to apply for maintenance from his former wife, if he becomes incapacitated by illness or disability and is out of work ("Reality check in gender equality"; yesterday).

This is a very small step in the right direction. It is time for our society to fully embrace the notion that wives and husbands share equal rights and responsibilities during marriage and even after.

Wives and husbands should enjoy the freedom to decide between themselves how best to support their families. Husbands who agree to give up their careers and decide to spend more time at home should not be disadvantaged or penalised by our legal framework.

If our philosophy is that of having family as the first line of support, and that mutual help is expected of spouses, then, spousal maintenance must be based on fairness and not on sexual and gender stereotypes.

Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), to which Singapore acceded in 1995, state parties agree to "take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations".

In particular, state parties have to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, "the same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution".

Cedaw also requires state parties to "modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women" to eliminate prejudices based on the idea of superiority or inferiority of stereotyped gender roles.

In this regard, Singapore still has a long way to go before fulfilling its obligations under Cedaw.

Ng Wei Shee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2015, with the headline 'Good law should ensure equal opportunities'. Print Edition | Subscribe