AWARE calls for a budget for gender equality

Gender equality group AWARE submitted its eighth annual set of recommendations for the National Budget through the public consultation portal REACH on 12 January, calling for the Government to take concrete steps in ending gender inequality.

“It’s time to dedicate resources to a specific office – perhaps even a Ministry – tasked with achieving gender equality,” said Jolene Tan, AWARE’s Head of Advocacy and Research.

“It doesn’t happen automatically with time; indeed the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report saw Singapore slipping 10 places behind other countries last year.”

“In formulating the Budget, the Government should consider the cost of women’s stifled aspirations, which also affect labour force participation, human capital and the economy.”

AWARE notes that Singapore, as a party to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it is obliged to end inequitable laws, policies and practices and promote gender equality at all levels.

The need for a specific blueprint to do so, and stronger national machinery dedicated to this end, was highlighted during Singapore’s Fifth Periodic Review in 2017.

To address women’s risk of ageing into financial insecurity due to domestic and care labour, AWARE makes a number of recommendations, including calling for automatic annual basic contributions by the Government to low-balance individual CPF accounts.

The qualifying threshold would be determined by mapping out a nominal schedule projecting how much one needs in a CPF account for each year of working age life to reach the CPF Retirement Sum by age 55.  Those who are not “on schedule” each year would receive the automatic basic contribution from the state.

“The Silver Support scheme already recognises that people who cannot accumulate CPF savings – including because of caregiving responsibilities – need collective support,” said Ms Tan.

“Our proposal would frontload payments earlier, allowing caregivers to use this to meet basic needs like healthcare and housing over their lifecourse, rather than only supporting them when they have already aged into financial insecurity.”

AWARE also expressed support for a more redistributive tax system to finance social spending, including higher top marginal rates for personal income tax and the introduction of capital gains and estate taxes.

Said Ms Tan, “Investment in social spending is necessary to avoid the greater social costs generated when basic needs go unmet. Burgeoning wealth inequality also has serious negative implications for social relations. If higher taxes are implemented in a progressive way, this should be accepted – indeed welcomed – as necessary for a fairer society.”

This year’s recommendations fall into three categories:

1. Strengthening the national machinery to promote gender equality, including by:

  • Adopting a concrete action plan, with the active participation of civil society, to implement CEDAW.
  • Applying gender mainstreaming consistently in the development and implementation of all laws, policies and programmes.
  • Setting up a Gender Ministry, or strengthening the mandate and capacity of the Office of Women’s Development to work on issues of gender inequality.
  • Applying gender budgeting as part of the National Budget planning process

2. Supporting older persons in meeting old-age needs

  • Expanding the availability and quantum of Silver Support, including by removing the different bands for HDB flats of different sizes.
  • Making healthcare in old age more affordable: exploring the possibility of adapting the Pioneer Generation Package for all generations.

3. Supporting younger cohorts of women so they do not become financially stressed in old

  • Supporting family caregivers through a caregivers’ allowance and annual automatic basic contributions by the state to low-balance individual CPF accounts.
  • Supporting all working adults in caregiving, regardless of gender, including by introducing eldercare leave, increasing the gender neutrality of parental leave, and incentivising employers to adopt flexible-working arrangements more widely.