Anti-discrimination laws, allowing egg freezing among recommendations in PAP paper on women's issues

Joint paper recommends policies to help women balance career and family obligations

Women should also be allowed to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons, the PAP team said in a joint paper released on July 29, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party's (PAP) women's wing and youth wing have called for workplace anti-discrimination laws and full flexibility for couples to share parental leave.

These were some of the recommendations the PAP groups proposed to help women balance their career advancement with family obligations, as well as promote more equal sharing of caregiving between men and women.

Women should also be allowed to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons, the PAP team said in a joint paper released on Thursday (July 29).

The joint paper, which sets out a total of 12 recommendations aimed at improving women's development in Singapore, comes after the Government announced last September that it was embarking on 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.

In putting together the joint paper, the PAP team conducted dialogue sessions with about 1,500 people who raised issues facing women in schools, workplaces and at home. The recommendations will be submitted to the Government for its consideration in drafting the White Paper.

Give women more options to balance careers with other obligations

The paper noted that existing frameworks, such as those under the Employment Act, offer women some protection against discriminatory actions like being dismissed without cause while pregnant.

But it said more needs to be done to further reduce workplace discrimination, such as legislating the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices to allow for stronger enforcement of these practices.

Said Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam at a press conference on the joint paper on Thursday: "Women still face discrimination at their workplaces. They say they are passed over for promotions or not given opportunities because they are thought to be not able to perform because they have to take care of their kids once they get married and get pregnant."

A stronger stance against such attitudes should be adopted as these are common complaints among women and a cause for concern, added Ms Rahayu, who is Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information, and Health.

The paper also recommended scaling up movements like SG Women in Tech to encourage girls and young women to enter and progress in growth sectors.

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling said more can be done to encourage girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) as subjects in school.

She said that women are underrepresented in Stem-related jobs, and that women who are already in such jobs tend to be paid less than their male peers.

They may worry about whether they can meet the demands of a fast-paced, male-dominated work environment, she added.

With digitalisation on the rise overall, there will be many more good job opportunities in tech firms going forward, Ms Tin said.

"If we can help our ladies capitalise on these opportunities, I think it will go a long way towards closing the gender wage gap and helping our ladies to fulfil their potential and aspirations," she said.

Other recommendations in the paper included a proposal for the Government, organisations and employers to work together to develop support packages and networks for women who wish to re-enter the workforce and rebuild their careers after taking a break to care for their children, for instance.

The paper also recommended ways to shift the burden of caregiving in a more equitable direction while bolstering support for caregivers.

For instance, it said the cap on the number of days of maternity leave that can be converted to paternity leave should be removed. This will give couples the freedom to decide which parent is best suited to caring for their young children.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim said the take-up rate for existing paternity leave is still low due to social pressure to prioritise work and the perception that childcare is a woman's role.

But he noted that flexible work arrangements necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in more men becoming aware of the need to do their part as fathers.

"I see a need for us to challenge the perception of employers and create family-friendly policies so that we can nudge men to take parental leave, take care of the children and be part of their growing-up years," added Mr Zhulkarnain.

The paper also proposed ways to lighten the financial load for those caring for elderly family members. Among other things, it recommended boosting the existing Home Caregiving Grant and creating a new financial aid scheme to help caregivers getting the grant with their own retirement needs.

Under the proposed scheme, the Government would match funds contributed by families to the Central Provident Fund account of the family member performing full-time caregiver duties.

The paper also said steps should be taken to organise voluntary respite care services, raise awareness of existing support programmes and enhance long-term home-based care options for seniors.

Call to review sex ed, allow egg-freezing for non-medical reasons

Efforts are needed to change society's mindsets on gender norms and stereotypes so that greater fairness and equal respect between genders can be achieved, the joint paper said.

Noting that attitudes towards gender roles and sexual respect are formed at a young age, the groups yesterday recommended that the Ministry of Education (MOE) conduct timely and regular updates to its sex education curriculum to respond to current issues and trends, especially for secondary schools.

Schools should also create safe spaces for students to ask sex-related questions, it added, and steps should also be taken to equip parents with the knowledge and skills to have such conversations with their children at home.

Ms Rahayu acknowledged that the content of sexuality education programmes is a sometimes controversial subject where different views from various communities have to be taken into account.

It is challenging to develop a good curriculum, but treating sex and related topics as taboo is not the solution, she stressed.

"If you don't teach your kids early enough or you don't tell them about this content or find a way to actually meaningfully educate them, they are going to find it elsewhere, and that's going to be worse."

Nee Soon GRC MP Carrie Tan said many young people are facing mental health struggles related to their sexuality.

"It is my view that when the Government approaches sexuality education, it has to be objective and devoid of any kind of values imposed by any religious groups," she said.

"The role of MOE is to provide objective information on the various struggles and issues that teens and youth will be confronted with, and then the parents need to augment that by their own education at home, based on their own faith or values."

Ms Tan added that adults and institutions should give young people room to arrive at their own understanding of their sexuality and development issues, while empowering them with knowledge and trusting them to express themselves and make the right decisions.

For workplaces, the paper said there should be a tripartite effort to promote open and safe reporting of harassment as well as a zero-tolerance approach.

The paper also noted that some Singaporean women are going overseas to have their eggs frozen for non-medical reasons, which is currently banned here. It recommended that such procedures be allowed, but with a regulatory framework and conditions in place.

"Singapore is well known for our world class medical hub with highest quality standards. People come to Singapore to seek medical care, but for egg-freezing, Singapore women go overseas to do so," said Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui.

She added that this causes stress for these women when they decide to use them, as they either need to fly to the country where the eggs are stored or have them sent by courier to Singapore.

Other recommendations included creating a national reproductive health screening programme to help married couples make decisions and plans on starting families, as well as a network to help single mothers access support and resources.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.