Covid-19 impact more drastic on women: President Halimah

They bear greater share of caregiving load while juggling work amid pandemic curbs

The Covid-19 pandemic and the many restrictions brought about by it have had a more drastic impact on women compared with men, as women bear a greater share of caregiving responsibilities at home, said President Halimah Yacob yesterday.

"As more activities for work and caregiving are moved online, women find themselves having to juggle both work and caregiving at the same time," she said.

Speaking at the 28th Exemplary Mother Award presentation organised by Jamiyah Singapore, Madam Halimah noted that the pandemic also saw an increased mental toll on women as compared with men.

According to a study in medical journal The Lancet, Covid-19 has led to a sharp increase in anxiety and depression worldwide, and women have fared worse than men, said Madam Halimah.

She said the greater prevalence of mental health issues among women is "anticipated" because women are more likely to be affected by the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

More household responsibilities for women because of home-based learning for children, and the fact that they earn generally lower salaries than their male counterparts were among reasons listed by Madam Halimah.

"They are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence, the prevalence of which increased during periods of lockdowns and stay-home orders," she added.

Having more programmes to help women is insufficient, she said, calling for "a more fundamental shift in mindsets, attitudes and social norms where there is respect and understanding of women's place as equal partners in society and not as subservient, supporting members of the cast".

The pandemic has made the burden of caregiving responsibilities even more acute over the past 20 months, said Madam Halimah.

She said: "As people are confined to their homes, caregivers have seen their stress levels climb to an all-time high.

"Many caregivers are providing help or are 'on call' almost all day."

A survey shows there are about 210,000 caregivers in Singapore, said Madam Halimah, adding that most caregivers are women, mostly aged 40 and above.

She stressed the need for existing support for caregivers to be reviewed to ensure its relevance and adequacy in meeting the needs of this group.

Said Madam Halimah: "Our caregivers' greatest concerns are twofold - who will take care of their loved ones who need caregiving when they grow old and frail, and how will they survive retirement without enough savings or income of their own."

The annual Exemplary Mother Award and Exemplary Young Mother Award recognise and celebrate the resilience of mothers in overcoming life's challenges, said Madam Halimah.

At the ceremony yesterday, Madam Sapiah Haron, 53, was presented with the Exemplary Mother Award, which was launched in 1993.

The cook single-handedly raised her eldest daughter, who was born with a cleft palate, between 1995 and 2004 while her Bangladeshi husband was denied entry to Singapore.

He now works as a vegetable supplier here.

"I had to be mother and father to my daughter while updating my husband about her through letters," said Madam Sapiah, now a mother of four daughters, aged 12 to 26.

Madam Far'ain Jaffar, 33, who fulfilled her dream of becoming a foster mother to two siblings under two in 2017 when her biological son was just three years old, received the Exemplary Young Mother Award.

The children's book author and educator is the third recipient of this award.

In his speech, Jamiyah Singapore president Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar noted that many of the award recipients are simple individuals with simple goals in life.

"What is not simple but ever so precious about them is... the distance they are willing to go and the extent they are prepared to sacrifice in overcoming obstacles that lay in their path," he said.

Mirroring the nationwide Conversations on Singapore Women's Development, Jamiyah Singapore has initiated its own conversations with women, particularly mothers, and has submitted the agency's observations and recommendations to the Government, Dr Hasbi said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 24, 2021, with the headline 'Covid-19 impact more drastic on women: President Halimah'. Subscribe