Archaic concepts in Women's Charter to be abolished under proposed changes to law

The Government is taking the opportunity to completely abolish some of the outdated concepts with the Women's Charter (Amendments) Bill. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - There was a time before the 1800s when a woman would lose her status as an independent legal personality after marriage, and no longer had rights to own property or enter into contracts on her own.

But these English laws were changed in the late 1800s to give married women the same rights as married men.

When Singapore enacted the Women's Charter, provisions were included tracing back to these law reforms, setting out the specific rights a married woman is afforded.

These include provisions that allowed a married woman to hold and dispose of property, or be liable for her own debts and contracts, as if she were "feme sole", or woman without a husband.

These provisions and others based on similarly archaic concepts are no longer necessary, with the proposed amendments to the Women's Charter, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling on Monday (Jan 10).

She noted that the Government is taking the opportunity to completely abolish some of these outdated concepts with the Women's Charter (Amendment) Bill.

Instead of specifying rights of married women, the Women's Charter will enshrine the equal rights of married men and women as a general principle.

The new Section 50 (1) states as a general principle that the rights, privileges, powers, capacities, duties and liabilities of a married woman are the same as those of a married man, unless otherwise provided in any written law.

Noting that times have changed, Ms Sun said during the debate on the Bill that women in Singapore have made tremendous progress since the country's independence in 1965.

The standing of women in society has risen steadily and women have also attained higher education levels on a par with men, among other things, she added.

"There is no doubt that a married woman is and should be the equal of a married man, not just in specific areas or for specific purposes but as a general principle," she said.

"The Government is committed to building an inclusive and fair society where every Singaporean, both men and women, have full and equal opportunities to contribute to our society."

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