Gender parity a key part of economic inclusion

Recently, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing stressed the need to "make sure the fruits of our growth are fairly distributed", emphasising the "responsibility" of the successful to take care of others ("S'poreans must stay united, understand global challenges"; Feb 5).

This is an important vision. Yet, findings from a new World Economic Forum (WEF) report on inclusive growth and development suggest that Singapore can do more to meet this aspiration.

Among the 30 advanced economies considered, Singapore has the highest level of net income inequality, and the highest Gini-coefficient - a measure of inequality - even after taxes and transfers. It ranks second-last in social protection.

Gender parity is specifically highlighted as a major component of economic inclusion.

But the WEF report states that Singapore "ranks poorly on female participation in the labour force, and the economy would benefit from narrowing the gender pay gap".

Indeed, in 2015, 64 per cent of residents outside the labour force were women. Furthermore, women on average earn less than men - for every dollar a man makes, a woman earns 89 cents.

Notably, Singapore is listed as the only country in the group of advanced economies that does not provide any form of old-age pension.

The emphasis on Central Provident Fund savings for achieving financial security in old age tends to disadvantage women, who have both lower lifetime earnings and longer lifespans.

Finally, Singapore could do better on producing and releasing comprehensive public data for the purposes of social and policy research.

While highlighting particular areas of concern, the WEF could not give Singapore an overall rank due to missing data on the poverty line and median income.

Singapore is one of the most competitive economies in the world, and does well in areas like business and political ethics, and education.

But this does not automatically translate into a better life for everyone if there are insufficient mechanisms to redistribute wealth or provide adequate social protection for vulnerable groups.

For growth to be sustainable, it must be inclusive.

We hope that the Government takes the opportunity offered by the forthcoming Budget to address these concerns.

Chong Ning Qian (Ms)
Research Executive
Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'Gender parity a key part of economic inclusion'. Print Edition | Subscribe