In response to the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD)’s invitation for public feedback on improving Singapore’s birth rate, AWARE has submitted our recommendations for population-related policies that pertain to Singapore’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) and measures to encourage parenthood.
TFR and parenthood are issues that are inextricably linked to perceptions about the quality of life in Singapore. If citizens do not have a sense of well-being and security, they will not be inclined to take on additional responsibilities of parenting and caregiving. It is therefore necessary to address all policies that affect our citizens’ quality of life, including those on education, health, housing, employment and retirement.
The following are some of the recommendations that we have submitted to the NPTD:
Approach the TFR issue holistically
If the issue that we are concerned about is that of an ageing population and shrinking workforce, it may not be cost – effective to try to reverse the declining TFR. The TFR has been below replacement since 1975, despite the numerous schemes and incentives offered to individuals. Studies indicate that increasing the TFR from 1.2 to 1.85 (a highly ambitious target) will only ameliorate the situation marginally.
The State should consider alternative solutions that are more cost- effective in ameliorating the issue of an ageing population and shrinking workforce. Utmost priority should be given to maximizing the latent talent we have in Singapore by:
- Ensuring that children are not prematurely excluded from our talent pool before they receive adequate education
- Providing more supportive conditions of work and life so that women who leave the workforce to be caregivers are able to return later
Prioritise gender equality
Current state policies, such as the 16-week mandatory paid maternity leave and no mandated paid paternity leave for fathers, place issues of fertility firmly in the realm of women. This model perpetuates a familial form that is premised on the traditional role of men as breadwinners and women as caregivers, and is neither realistic nor fair, given the aspirations and talents of our well-educated women and men.
- Make gender equality a core value in all policies aimed at supporting families, and dispel gendered stereotypes about parenting roles
- Legislate at least two weeks of paid paternity leave, with the cost shared between the employer and the State.
- Convert four weeks of the 16-week maternity leave to parental leave to be taken by either spouse.
Provide more support for all types of families
The State has addressed the issue of care-giving at the level of individual families – for example, offering maternity leave, baby bonuses, tax reliefs and the choice to hire domestic help – rather than at the public level, i.e. providing universally accessible childcare support in various forms to all families. To build a truly inclusive society, policies should not differentiate between citizens along socioeconomic or other lines.
A more inclusive approach should consider:
- Facilitating flexible working arrangements and support from employers for a healthy work-life balance
- The expansion and improvement of childcare facilities
- The provision of more anti-discrimination protection for mothers in the workplace, particularly with regards to the unfair dismissal of pregnant women
Fairer distribution of benefits and support
- Review the current overarching policy that limits the definition of family to married parents.
- Widen access to childcare subsidies, motherhood benefits and housing benefits to include all mothers, without discriminating against unwed mothers.
- Discard the Parents Tax Rebate and Working Mothers Child Relief policies that are biased in favour of working mothers (but not stay-at-home mothers) and higher-paid working women.
- Grant rights of citizenship to foreign mothers of Singaporean children so that their families are able to remain intact. This is increasingly significant; in 2008, around 30% of all Singaporean children had one non-citizen parent, an increase from about 22% in 1998. Seventy percent of these had non-citizen mothers.
Provide more support for women who want to have their children later
The declining TFR has been attributed to people getting married later. But even if declining TFR is caused by later marriage, given the high cost of living, the emphasis on education and work, and the national ethos to be self-reliant, it may not be possible or cost-effective to try to reverse this trend.
AWARE urges the State to support and promote the use of technologies that enable older women to have babies. Increase the subsidies for in-vitro fertilization and maintain the same level for subsidy for subsequent treatments. Such support is extremely targeted at women who desire to have kids and who need this financial support as in-vitro treatment is expensive.
For the full text of our submission, please refer to:
AWARE’S mission is to remove all gender-based barriers so as to allow individuals in Singapore to develop their potential to the fullest and realise their personal visions and hopes through:
- Research and advocacy
- Education and training
- Support services
AWARE believes in the rights of women and men to make informed and responsible choices about their lives and to have equal opportunities in education, marriage and employment, and in the right of women to control their own bodies, particularly with regard to sexual and reproductive rights.
AWARE is dedicated to removing gender-based barriers.
These barriers apply to both women and men, but because of the way human society has evolved, it is women who are more likely to come up against these barriers. These barriers, whether structural, attitudinal, or self-imposed, prevent individuals in Singapore from developing their potential to the fullest and realising their personal visions and hopes.