School Conversation Highlights
Youths shared their thoughts on strengthening women's development....
Conversations on Women’s Development – Home & Community
A Summary of Issues Raised by Youths (Saturday, 9 Jan 2021)
Attended by: Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State, Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth
The second dialogue focused on issues in the home and community and was held on 9 January 2021. Here are some key takeaways from the session:
Participants acknowledged that having open discussions on Singapore women’s development was a good start, but called for more minority voices to be included in the conversations. They shared that more could be done to educate the broader youth population in areas such as: creating a culture of respect, consent and boundaries, legislation to recognise caregivers’ work, providing adequate support for vulnerable women groups, providing safe and judgement-free avenues of reporting abuse, and moving away from victim-blaming. Participants raised the need for more empathy, sensitivity and emotional support for victims dealing with issues of harassment and sexual assault. They also discussed how to provide better solutions for non-nuclear family units, such as assistance schemes and additional support for single mothers.
The top 3 issues of concern affecting women at home and in the community as voted by participants were: Gender Stereotypes, Sexual Harassment and Issues Faced by Vulnerable Women Groups.
The majority of participants were concerned that gender stereotypes in our society could create an environment where negative behaviours towards women were normalised and met with acceptance. Participants advocated for breaking outdated gender stereotypes to ensure a better future for men and women. Some felt that men could use their “male privilege” to empower women, such as by calling out harmful “locker room talk” and educating other men.
Many shared that the mindset of the community needed to move away from the stereotype of women as home-makers and de facto caregivers. They suggested utilising nationwide education campaigns to undo generations of deeply ingrained gender stereotypes in the decades to come. Many would also like to see an improvement in the education system on what women’s empowerment constitutes. They felt there should be a conscious effort to ensure students understand policies that empower women are in place to ultimately bring about equality between men and women.
Another key point brought up was to increase support for stay-at-home mothers. Participants cited that in cases of domestic abuse, stay-at-home mothers may be dependent on their spouses, and find themselves trapped without the financial security to leave their situations.
Participants also noted that despite the increased number of women in the workforce, women were still expected to take on the role of the primary caregiver and household organiser. Many shared that domestic work was often unrecognised and undervalued and women who took time off for caregiving responsibilities experienced discrimination in the workplace. Many felt that more education was needed to raise awareness of the issues faced by mothers/single mothers and to recognise the contribution of men who stayed home to take on caregiving roles.
A number of suggestions raised by participants include legislating caregivers’ income to recognise the value of their work in a tangible way, increasing paternity care leave and allowing for shared family care leave.
Sexual harassment was one of the top issues of concern for many participants as they felt it fundamentally violated the safety, security and self-actualization of individuals, resulting in an irreversible impact on the victims’ physical and mental health, and their ability to thrive. The participants felt strongly for equal sentencing, regardless of gender, on sexual harassment crimes including domestic violence. Many shared that penalities against sexual violence should not be seen only as penalising an offense but rather the violation of fundamental values.
A number of participants shared that victims of sexual harassment and abuse were unaware of the available resources to seek help from as schools and homes did not adequately prepare them on how to handle such situations.
Many shared about the reluctance to report cases of sexual abuse due to the perception that the criminal justice system was unable to handle such situations sensitively. Participants also felt that Singapore’s criminal justice system needed to be more empathetic towards sexual assault victims when cases were reported. They largely agreed on the importance of providing training on how to address trauma to personnel working with sexual abuse cases.
Participants shared that several laws and policies in place to protect women against sexual harassment required evidence, which could be difficult for the victim to provide, and called for alternative measures to protect women.
Many participants shared that more discussion and education was needed around respecting boundaries and the need to clearly define consent. Further education on how to respond in situations of sexual harassment was also needed.
Issues Faced by Vulnerable Women Groups:
Several participants acknowledged that women had progressed through the years, but said it was important to recognise that progress was uneven for some groups, e.g. LGBTQ and other vulnerable groups of women.
Participants raised the importance of considering intersectionality when discussing gender issues as discrimination and inequality stemmed from many sources such as race, class, gender identity and religion. Participants also commented that sexual harassment incidents tended to involve minority women more, and it was important to look into issues faced by minority women.
Many participants also suggested addressing the lack of assistance for single mothers. They shared that in the event of divorce, mothers were not adequately compensated or well protected, and commented that the maintenance amount paid by the father rarely takes into account the unpaid emotional labour of raising the child and looking after the family. Many felt more financial support should be given to divorced women as they were typically the sole caregiver for young children as well as elderly parents post-divorce. They also called for companies to allow for flexible work arrangements such as working from home.
A number of participants discussed increasing accessibility and affordability for women’s mental healthcare so that timely and accurate diagnoses to mental health conditions could be sought. This could prevent women’s mental health issues from being dismissed as being “emotional beings” by the general public.
Participants shared the need for clearer shelter options for women in abusive homes with safety in place for their children. They felt that institutions and the government should build a stronger ecosystem of support for people facing family violence as a longer-term measure.