AWARE co-produces a series of policy wishlists spurring policy-makers to reimagine gender equality in Singapore

Women’s rights and gender-equality advocacy group AWARE has co-produced a series of policy wishlists coinciding with the government’s 2021 White Paper on improving gender equality.

The wishlists were produced following in-depth discussions by the group with 191 members of the public on the changes they most wanted to see policy-makers in Singapore enact on the subject of gender equality.

The effort, titled “Reimagining Equality” includes challenges and recommendations in several areas from sex education to workplace discrimination.

The 191 participants attended 29 virtual community discussions held by AWARE between March and May 2021, each falling into one of the following groups: single parents; migrant spouses; students, parents and teachers who had opinions on sexuality education; individuals who had experienced workplace discrimination, harassment and/or bullying; students at Institutes of Higher Learning who were concerned about campus sexual harassment; and men who were interested in advocating for gender equality.

This made for “an opportunity to collaborate with people of all ages calling for us to do better for our future generations,” said Daryl Yang, who led discussions on sexuality education.

“Drawing on participants’ diverse experiences, the discussions allowed us to brainstorm creative and important recommendations, and build consensus across generational and ideological differences on the changes we need to see.”

As Mr Yang noted, discussions were frequently “difficult and painful, as participants bravely shared stories of abuse and discrimination”. Yet this “open and rewarding” quality enabled a rich sharing of ideas.

AWARE will submit a comprehensive “omnibus report” of gender equality recommendations, based on its own research and advocacy positions, to the government in late July, said the group.

Among the concerns set out by the group of single parents includes limited housing options impacted by finances, and needs assessments that underestimate household expenditure.

Divorced parents reported having to apply many times over for maintenance to be enforced, whereas unwed parents worried that their “illegitimate” children were not eligible for intestate inheritance.

Policy changes suggested by this group included allowing single parents the same housing and grant options as married applicants; establishing a governmental Child Support Agency to manage maintenance payments; abolishing the concept of “illegitimacy” under inheritance law; and making financial aid criteria more inclusive.

The group of migrant spouses, on the other hand, noted concerns of the prospect of being separated from their Singaporean children, their inability to co-own homes, and their limited work options.

Some policy changes proposed by this group include simplifying access to Permanent Residence which would help facilitate homeownership; and granting the automatic right to work without Letters of Consent.

As for victims of workplace harassment and bullying, the concerns cited were a general lack of understanding of workplace bullying and a lack of options for recourse; the absence of an anti-harassment training program for employers, employees and interns, TAFEP’s insufficient powers to assist complainants; and the prospect of retaliation from workplace harassers, among others.

Some policy changes that were suggested include introducing national legislation on workplace harassment, mandating relevant training, updating TAFEP and TADM websites to clarify recourse available against bullying, and establishing an external regulatory body to investigate harassment. Also suggested was for audits of companies’ HR policies and processes.

Moving on, the group of victims of workplace discrimination cited concerns regarding the lack of comprehensive legal protections for employees who experience discrimination as well as the lack of awareness of internal reporting processes. Again, TAFEP’s insufficient enforcement powers were brought up as well.

Here, policy changes suggested include much of the same i.e introducing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, mandating relevant training, and establishing an external regulatory body to investigate cases and complaints of discrimination.

In terms of students at institutes of higher learning (IHLs), the group noted that they were concerned about the lack of standardised protocol for dealing with campus sexual harassment as well as policies and processes that were not victim-centric, including the behaviours of staff handling such cases. Also noted was the re-traumatising effect of institutions making police reports without the victim’s consent.

On this front, suggestions include introducing a National Code of Conduct across all IHLs, implementing a clear protocol of support and resources for victims, mandating relevant training for both student and staff, and as well as clarifying “reasonable grounds” for exemption from the legal obligation to report cases.

Beyond that, the group of students, parents and teachers of sexuality education in Singapore noted concerns on the mainstream curriculum’s default sex-negative approach to the subject as well as inadequate focus on consent and gender-based violence.

Also cited as a concern were teachers perpetuating problematic ideas such as victim-blaming, LGBTQ students feeling excluded during sex ed classes, and an overall lack of engagement from students.

The group suggested that the curriculum be updated and that a more facts-based approach be adopted instead. They also stressed the need to foster respect for different sexual orientations, gender identities and family structures.

Finally, the group of men who are advocates of gender inequality in Singapore voices concerns about the reproduction of rigid ideas of masculinity during National Service (NS). They also highlighted the perpetuation of stereotypes and stigma products in media portrayals of gender and diverse sexual orientations as well as laws pertaining to paternity leave.

The group suggested a review on the approach to teaching gender, sex and sexuality issues in school. As for NS, the group suggested mandating diversity and inclusion training for instructors and educators so that they might better support people with different gender identities and expressions.

Beyond that, the group suggested codifying the prohibition of negative gender- and sexuality-related stereotypes in the media and increasing paternity leave.

“These policy wishlists are truly by the community, for the community. We are glad that AWARE could serve as a vessel for these individuals, amplifying their concerns to the national stage,” said AWARE President Margaret Thomas.

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