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The Article Gender Disarmed

The article, Gender Disarmed: How Gendered Policies Produce Gender-Neutral Policies in Singapore by Youyenn Teo is an insightful read. Teo begins her article with the ideal and traditional roles, males and females uphold in their family and nation. These stereotypes and categorization are founded on traditional values and government policies. It can be argued that Singapore and her policies are, sometimes built on Confucius beliefs (Moyer, 2015). As such, many Singaporeans thus acknowledge the government’s efforts in safeguarding traditional beliefs (Teo, 2009) and would also align their beliefs and perspectives with them (Teo, 2009). Therefore, Singaporeans must be willing to view things from different perspectives other than those offered by the government. I will be discussing on the limited effectiveness of government policies, the influence of traditional values on society and lastly, the willingness to be different.

Firstly, I agree with Teo’s argument on the limited effectiveness of the government’s gendered policies. Policies such as, Working Mother’s Child Relief, was introduced by the government as a form of incentive to women to promote family building. As the name suggests, one has to be married and employed to qualify for this tax rebate (IRAS, 2017). Thus, emphasizes on the Government’s yearn for women to play an active role in both the workforce and at home, reiterating the stereotype and responsibility of caretaking on mothers (Teo, 2009).

Furthermore, such a limitation is also attributed by the inconsistencies in the government’s intention on social demographics. Since independence, various family planning campaigns have been introduced to maintain Singapore’s population size. For example, in 1973, “Girl or Boy, Two is Enough” was introduced to reduce birth rates (National Archives of Singapore, 1983), “Graduate Mothers’ Scheme” was introduced in 1980 to encourage female graduates to give birth in which underlying idea reiterates on the need for women to hold important roles in and out of homes, and lastly, in 2017, “I Love Children” to enhance couple’s fertility nationwide (Lin, 2017). The drastic differences in campaign messages thus show the great influence of Singapore’s authoritative government on her citizens.

Also, the lack of tolerance to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Community, coupled with the conservative Asian mindset (Fu, 2016), has resisted the implementation or change of laws to redefine the term “Family” to include the LGBT community and single mothers like in the West (Macionis, 2010). Despite their capabilities to procreate, this group is however faced with many restrictions that prevent them from doing so. For example, their inability to undergo fertility treatment or to adopt a child locally or abroad (Tan, 2013). The LGBT and single mothers’ communities face further discrimination in areas such as rights (freedom) and housing.

Secondly, Teo argues that there is a limit to the amount of equality and rights the society allows women to possess. As Confucius would say, “A woman’s duty is to not take control” but “Woman’s greatest duty is to produce a son” (Reese, 2016). With more women being granted opportunities to study and participating in the workforce, is such a saying still relevant in today’s context? Traditionally, women are known to love and care, taking up the caregiver role (Sanghani, 2014), while men, express love for the family through more distant means (Farrell, 2001). A society where male patriarchy exists. Such gender roles still persist as a survey done by the National University of Singapore’s Social Work Department on 323 family caregivers shows that 94% are women (NUS (Kalyani), 2006).

The Biological aspect of women (Chew, 2016) is also a widely used excuse and explanation for the lack of female representation in the workforce and higher management (BoardAgender, 2013). However, Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth has established a 20-20 target which aims to have at least 20% of women on boards by 2020, a step to further reduce gender disparity and increase female representation in workplaces (Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth, 2016). Yet, heartening is the rise in female figures for Singaporean to look up to as role-models like our newly elected president, Halimah Yaccob, fashion entrepreneur and expert in public relations, Tjin Lee and Elim Chew, food and fashion entrepreneur (Honeycombers, 2017).

However, some feminists have argued that feminism is not about promoting equal rights with men but instead respecting women’s voices and equality for both genders (Younger, 2015). As such, providing an avenue for the oppressed to speak and those discriminated against, regardless of gender, like the case of single mothers in Singapore. Due to their marital status, single mothers are not eligible for many benefits like Baby Bonus, Housing grants, and numerous Tax Rebates (Ministry of Social and Family Development, 2017). When questioned, political leaders responded that the present family is the ideal family structure that the government is promoting and the state should not be the surrogate father or husband. Many also cited that the society is not accepting to such structures (Lee, 2005).

Thirdly, though not explicitly mentioned, is governmental politics an effective tool in eliminating gender inequality and should citizens conform to such politics?

To many in the West, Singapore is known as a nanny state, due to the strict rules and regulations that governs and restrict people’s behavior. Though such a rule may have created obedient and law-abiding citizens (Berset-Price, 2015), many to a certain extend, have been challenging such boundaries, specifically the LGBT community.

PinkDot is an annual event spreading message on freedom to love. Over the years, despite much deterrence from the government (Penal Code 377A, restriction of sponsorships and attendees) as well as from the public (Religious groups), the number of people attending PinkDot each year is growing significantly (Azliah, 2016). Another case would be, local director, Ivan Heng marrying his partner, Trickett in London (Chan, 2014). Both scenarios show that some Singaporeans are physically and mentally ready for this change and willing to go the extra mile for things close to their hearts.

Many have also been challenging traditional norms, a reversal in gender roles. There is an increasing trend of fathers taking up the role, Stay-at-home-dads, to take care of their children while their spouses take on a full-time job (Tan, 2015). This opposes traditional and sometimes government’s belief on a family unit.

There is also a need for citizens to question the intentions of government when implementing new policies in regards to Gender and Sexuality. The presence of gender inequality prevents maximum efficiency and thus impedes economic growth (Kamrany, Robinson, 2017). Thus it is necessary for the State to be sincere and genuine in her efforts to eliminate inequality in sexuality and gender. Creation of gendered policies backed by reasons on doing them to please citizens or for benefits, may bring more harm than good.

In conclusion, as Ban Ki-Moon says Gender Equality is attainable if everyone, women and men, girls and boys are willing to participate and contribute. It is everyone’s responsibility (Ban, 2014).

Gender and Sexuality are topics though highly relevant yet usually brushed lightly or avoided as it can be controversial and deep at times. Singapore’s society at large does not sense gender and sexuality issues as a pressing issue. However, before we yearn for a major change in our society, we must be able to look beyond that perfect city the government is exposing us to and be aware of such issues around us. We must also learn to embrace the people around us, taking note of who they are and not what they are.

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