Uneven maintenance laws stand in the way of progress

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), despite calls over the years to extend maintenance to men, has said that various stakeholders are not ready for such a move, and has instead proposed a puzzling amendment: maintenance for former husbands, should the men be incapacitated by illness or disability ("Maintenance for divorced men?"; Oct 20).

Maintenance should be gender neutral.

The initial purpose of the Women's Charter, when it was first put into force, was to uplift the status of women and put them on equal standing with men.

That was more than 50 years ago.

Our nation was founded on the concept of meritocracy, with a person's success to be judged on his own merits, without reference to race, religion or gender.

In other common law jurisdictions, such as Britain, gender-neutral maintenance is, in fact, widespread.

The proposed amendment would be inconsistent with existing provisions of the Women's Charter, which provides that husbands and wives are equal partners in the matrimonial household and both parties have the right to separately engage in any trade, profession or social activity they so choose.

Limiting maintenance to only disabled men makes a mockery of the very spirit of the charter.

Husbands and wives are equal and neither is to be more favourably treated than the other.

The way forward is clear: Maintenance must either be gender neutral or be taken away entirely.

Neither spouse should be in a more privileged position than the other.

The stakeholders the MSF refers to stand in the way of gender equality and in the way of societal progress.

The current proposed amendment is so limited as to be of negligible significance in practice.

Let us not wait another 50 years to get this right.

Clement Yap Ying Jie

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2015, with the headline 'Uneven maintenance laws stand in the way of progress'. Print Edition | Subscribe