Forum: Pledge to support women could have been better considered

Last Saturday, the People's Action Party launched the campaign #ActionForHer, asking Singaporeans to choose a woman in their lives (for example, mother, wife, daughter or sister) and pledge to support her via a multiple-choice set of suggested actions (Initiative to pledge support and take action for women, Sept 19).

While I appreciate the sentiment behind this campaign, I found some aspects of it problematic.

First, the pledge suggests that gender equality matters only to people with wives/daughters/sisters/mothers, and so on.

Gender equality affects everyone in society.

Traditional gender roles affect not only women but also men, penalising them with inequalities in areas such as parental leave.

A 2018 study published in the Journal Of Happiness Studies found that gender equality significantly improved overall life satisfaction for everyone: "Indeed, men also see strong and significant gains in life satisfaction when the sexes are more equal."

Second, the pledge form allows you to select only one woman to support.

This restriction means that, unintentionally or not, users are forced to pick one woman in their life above all others. This seems to imply that equality is a zero-sum game, when it is not.

Lastly, I found the list of actions to support women to be rather insubstantial.

For example, it is unclear how "encouraging her to try something new" really solves gender inequality in society.

Meanwhile, "treating her with respect" and "not dismissing the struggles she faces, and standing with her" are very similar, and may also imply that women should be grateful for having basic human rights.

The only action that seems tangible and meaningful to me is "helping lighten her caregiving load at home".

Research shows that the unequal domestic workload of women is the critical factor holding them back from professional success and financial independence.

I suggest other similarly concrete actions, such as "sharing my salary information with female colleagues at the same level as me" (to check for and address gender wage gaps), or "attending an anti-harassment or anti-sexual assault workshop" (because sexual violence is another major oppressor of women).

Gender inequality is one of the most pressing problems of today, and I support efforts to eradicate it.

Yet this small and symbolic pledge could have been better considered to truly inspire people in Singapore to help work towards equity and equality.

Rene Caroline Tan

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