Aware report proposes path to citizenship for migrant spouses, accessible housing for single parents

Efforts to combat workplace discrimination against women should not only be focused on pregnant women and mothers.
Efforts to combat workplace discrimination against women should not only be focused on pregnant women and mothers.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has called for efforts to tackle various forms of gender-based discrimination against pregnant women, single parents, women with disabilities, domestic workers, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and Muslim women.

Comprehensive anti-discrimination laws are needed, and employers should be legally obligated to address instances of workplace harassment, publish gender-disaggregated data on salaries and bonuses, and show they are adhering to the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, Aware said.

The gender equality advocacy group on Thursday (July 29) released a 242-page report outlining 88 recommendations for the Government, which is conducting a comprehensive review of issues related to women and gender equality.

The review will culminate in an upcoming White Paper that will be introduced in Parliament later this year.

Aware recommended giving the national watchdog for fair employment practices – the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment – more power to take enforcement action against errant employers.

It added that efforts to combat workplace discrimination against women should be focused not only on pregnant women and mothers but also on women with disabilities who face additional barriers in their careers.

For migrant spouses of Singapore citizens, Aware recommended making the eligibility criteria for the Long Term Visit Pass + (LTVP+) more transparent and giving migrant spouses a clear, timed path to permanent residency and citizenship.

They should also be granted the automatic right to work, and restrictions on employment options for LTVP+ holders should be lifted, Aware said.

It added that foreigners working as domestic workers should have regulated working and rest hours, and they should also be allowed to switch employers freely.

On single parents and their children, Aware said housing is the most pressing issue for many such families.

It noted that unwed singles and their children are not considered a family nucleus, under current housing policies. 

On top of this, children born out of wedlock are considered "illegitimate" and their parents are not eligible for schemes such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and tax reliefs available to married parents.

And while divorced singles and their children do count as family nuclei, they still face limited housing options due to the divorcees' former ownership of public housing.

Aware said such conditions for home ownership imposed by the Housing Board should be reviewed, and child-related benefits should not be restricted to married parents.

The paper also tackled issues specific to LGBTQ persons and Muslims. 

Aware noted that LGBTQ and gender non-confirming students face high levels of bullying and discrimination in schools and recommended that the Education Ministry establish clear guidelines on LGBTQ-affirming care that schools must follow, as well as policies to address gender- and sexuality-based bullying.

It also reiterated a call to repeal the law against sex between men - Section 377A of the Penal Code - as well as media policies which censor LGBTQ content. These policies contribute to stigma, low self-esteem and poor mental health among those in the community, Aware added.

The group called for Muslim women to be allowed to wear the headscarf, or tudung, at all workplaces, noting that there are uniforms here that have been modified to accommodate the tudung, and that women should not have to make a choice between their religiosity and their careers.

Aware also proposed abolishing the provision for polygamy under the Administration of Muslim Law Act, which allows Muslim men to take a second wife under stringent rules, along with the requirement for prospective brides to obtain the consent of a male guardian to enter into marriage. 

Muslim women should also have equal rights in inheritance matters and divorce, which are currently skewed in favour of men, it added.

Call for law on videos and photos uploaded without consent

There should also be a law requiring online platforms to delete photos and videos that were uploaded without the subject’s consent, sometimes called revenge porn, Aware said.

Instances of sexual harassment are increasingly being facilitated by technology like digital cameras, social media and apps, the group noted.

It said a major challenge facing victims of tech-related sexual violence is in having their images removed from the Internet after they were uploaded non-consensually.

The report said one way to tackle this is to mandate the removal of such materials within 24 hours of receiving a court order to do so.

Aware also proposed other ways to tackle the problem of sexual violence against women, including legal and regulatory changes as well as education and research efforts.

Cases of rape and molest have risen in recent years, but many continue to go unreported, it said.

Based on its experiences operating the Sexual Assault Care Centre, Aware said the most common reasons for not filing a police report included the fear of not being believed, and worries about how one’s family or friends would react.

In order to make the criminal justice system more victim-centric, Aware proposed establishing a specialised court to deal with all sexual violence cases. There should also be subsidies for the medical and legal fees borne by survivors of sexual violence, it added.

Aware also said that much attention has been paid to sexual assault incidents on university campuses, but not to those on polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education campuses, despite these other institutes of higher learning (IHLs) having similar numbers of reported cases.

There should be a national code of conduct common to all IHLs, as well as first responder and bystander intervention training programmes, Aware suggested.

For workplaces, Aware said that a national survey it did this year with market research firm Ipsos found two in five workers in Singapore have experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment in the last five years. These include sexual or sexist remarks, and unwanted physical touch.

Aware said employers should be legally obligated to respond to complaints of sexual harassment. 

Aware also renewed calls to address what it called gaps in Singapore’s legislative framework to deal with sexual violence.

These include defining consent in the Penal Code, replacing outdated language such as insult or outage of modesty with terms like sexual harassment and assault, and removing marital immunity for sexual activity with minors aged 13 to 15. 

It also wants to expand the scope of the Women’s Charter to make its protections more gender-neutral, and change its name to the Family Charter.

On sex education, Aware called for the curriculum to include in-depth discussions of consent, gender-based violence and gender inequality and media literacy, and for programmes to help parents talk about sex and consent with their children to be scaled up.

Some of the paper’s recommendations were aimed at men, such as more accessible mental health services, higher quotas for paternity leave and greater support for male victims of sexual violence.

Aware also proposed commissioning a national study on the dominant forms of masculinity here and their effects on boys and men.