Opinion

International Women’s Day 2019 – Is There Gender Equality in Singapore?

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalancedForBetter, which encourages us to take action towards a “more gender-balanced world” – be it in the media, government, or workplace.

Short of leading a protest at Hong Lim Park – just kidding, don’t arrest me – there’s not much I can do to spark overnight change in those departments. What I can do, however, is to take this opportunity to raise awareness and bring this conversation back to light.

 

International Women’s Day 2019 – #BalanceForBetter

So in celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019, here are some observations on the current state of gender equality in Singapore – both in the workplace and at home. Enjoy.

 

The gender pay gap – women are paid less in Singapore

The issue of women earning less than men is a frequently discussed one. A commonly cited study is the one done in 2017 by ValuePenguin (now ValueChampion) which put the income gap in Singapore at a shocking 18% to 19% from 2006 to 2016.

However, as Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo brought up at the Committee of Supply 2018, this number is likely inflated because the sample included both full- and part-time employees.

Many of the employees who earned much less were probably women who juggled caregiving duties at home with part-time work, skewing the results.

But no matter what sources and data sets you look at, the bottomline is the same: Women do earn less – it’s just a matter of how much less.

If you look at the most “legit” source, the Ministry of Manpower, the gender pay gap is at 9%  as of 2017. Adding to that, current hiring practices in Singapore perpetuate this existing wage gap, because many employers base their offers on the applicant’s last-drawn salary.

Making matters worse, despite drawing lower salaries… women are expected to pay more for a lot of things in Singapore.

 

The pink tax – women pay more for the same things

The pink tax is basically gender-based price discrimination whereby goods and services targeted at women are more expensive than similar goods and services for men.

Put simply, it’s the phenomenon of seeing floral pink razors selling for double the price of plain blue ones, and having to pay 10% to 20% more for a ladies’ haircut instead of a men’s one.

And women don’t just pay more for frivolous stuff like toiletries and salon treatments. The discrimination actually extends into other more “serious” industries like insurance whereby young women pay more for things like critical illness coverage.

Take the government CareShield Life scheme for instance: At 30 years old – when Singaporeans must take up the policy – women will pay $253 instead the men’s $206. Premiums increase by 2% each year for the first 5 years, adjusted as needed thereafter.

According to Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Health, this was determined on an actuarially correct basis, considering that women have longer life expectancy, have a higher chance to be severely disabled by the end of their lives, and are likely to remain in disability for longer than men.

This caused a huge uproar when it was announced in 2018 because many viewed it as a double penalty for women, who already earn lower wages and have less in the Medisave.

 

Gender roles at home – the “invisible” work women are expected to do

But enough about dollars and cents, how about unpaid labour like household chores and other duties at home?

You guessed it: when the fridge is not stocked and there’s dirty laundry left unwashed, it’s the women who are penalised. I have never heard of a husband or father being blamed for the above, simply because nobody passes judgment on the men’s dedication to his family when these household chores are left undone.

Women bear the brunt of caring for elders as well, and it takes a toll not just on their health, but on their wallets too. They are heavily impacted financially when forced to give up or downgrade jobs.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat highlighted this during the recent Budget 2019, saying that majority of the beneficiaries of the $1,000 CPF top-up will be women as “many of them left the workforce early, and took up important roles as mothers, caregivers, or housewives.”

So while it may seem harmless on the surface, don’t forget that domestic work is just that – work.

To the men reading this… Better wake up your idea ah. Granted, we’ve generally become much more liberal in terms of gendered expectations and traditional roles, but we still have a long way to go – especially at home.

 

Conclusion – should we be celebrating gender equality in Singapore?

Well, despite the above, I would still say yes.

A huge part of the #BalancedForBetter movement is about celebrating our wins thus far, and Singapore has done relatively well at closing the gap on gender inequality.

For one thing, Halimah Yacob was elected as president in 2017 – making headlines as Singapore’s first female head of state, speaking leaps and bounds of our progress. The 9% gender pay gap is also a vast improvement from the 20% gap from 10 years ago.

Additionally, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report (2018), Singapore ranks relatively high on the scale of gender parity. We are #67 in the world in terms of our overall score, and #2 for the “wage equality for similar work” subindex. We come in 6th in the region (East Asia & The Pacific), beating countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and Korea.

So yes, I genuinely believe that we are taking baby steps towards a more gender-balanced society. And until then, I will go ahead and enjoy accelerated rewards on my ladies’ credit cards and free drinks on ladies night.

 

How do you feel about gender equality in Singapore? Weigh in on the conversation in the comments below! 

 

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