Singapore is a pro-family country. Family is sacred here, precious and to be protected at all costs. Don't ever forget it. Everything that's ever done in Singapore is for the good of the family unit.
Unless, of course, you're in a same-sex relationship. Or you're unmarried. Or you're a single parent. If you don't fit the patriarchal heterosexual family unit, then it's tough luck for you.
It's easy to see this faux "pro-family" rhetoric as mainly opposed to LGBT people or single mothers, but there are many ways in which such a mentality can impact everyone in not just stupid, but actually harmful, ways.
Feedback collated by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) from its public consultation on amendments to the Women's Charter – which includes requiring women to pay maintenance to ex-husbands who are incapacitated and unable to work – have been mixed, local press reported on Monday.
According to the report...
While some people said it was a step in the right direction, others felt that society would not be ready to accept that women have the same responsibility as men — traditionally the breadwinners of the family — to support their spouse/ex-spouse, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
While this reticence came from the public (and rightfully resisted by the ministry), the report later revealed a very similar mindset from the government...
The MSF noted one specific suggestion to extend personal protection orders, domestic exclusion orders and mandatory counselling orders to live-in partners.
“The Government is sympathetic towards the plight of these victims,” said the MSF. However, the ministry said that including live-in partners within the coverage of the Women’s Charter would affect “how a family is defined and viewed by the larger society”. It would also impact other pieces of legislation which reference family and marriage.
Embedded in both responses is the belief that there is one particular way in which families should look, and that, for some reason, this formula should be safe-guarded and promoted as The Only Way To Go. This is then coupled with the conviction that any retreat from this standard, any leeway allowed to deviate from this norm, is somehow destructive and therefore, undesirable.
But this perspective is dangerous. It doesn't fit with the reality, which is that families do come in all shapes, sizes and forms that might not fit with the norm. When we refuse to recognise this fact, we are leaving people vulnerable and unprotected.
A man who has given up his work and income – they might be unusual but they exist – or who cannot work will still be as financially dependent on his soon-to-be ex-wife no matter how much we as a society insist that men are traditionally meant to be breadwinners of the family.
A woman who is being abused by her partner will continue to endure the same mental, emotional and even physical harm regardless of whether they are married or not. She doesn't need our "sympathy" – she needs the right to claim protection, now.
It is bizarre that in a scenario where abuse is taking place we would be more concerned about how "a family is defined and viewed by the larger society" than about the actual hurt that a person is suffering.
The Women's Charter was a major piece of legislation passed in the early 1960s that changed things for many women. It stopped the practice of polygamy (except for Muslim families), which at the time was leaving women vulnerable, unprotected and marginalised in society.
But times have changed, and it's high time that the Charter be amended again to bring it more in step with modern concerns and realities. For that to happen, though, we need to acknowledge that there are many situations in which people could be vulnerable to harm and dependence, and provide protection for all these situations, not just the ones that conform to the norms we want to promote.