I’m often told that the women’s charter favours women in divorces, and they are often awarded custody and given spousal support without question.
But I don’t support custody and maintenance being awarded to a woman just because she’s a woman. Why?
Awarding spousal support and custody to someone purely because they are a woman is :
(b) reinforces gender imbalance by placing the onus of child-rearing on the woman alone and
(c) reinforces gender imbalance by placing the role of breadwinner on the man alone.
If a father is the sole caregiver and the mother is the breadwinner, clearly maintenance should be paid by her in the case of a divorce. A law that states otherwise is not fair. And as I whole-heartedly support hands-on fathers, I think space should be made for them in the law.
Giving someone preferential treatment based on their gender is not equal.
Gender equality means men and woman share the roles or – better yet – they get to choose what role they want to play, to what extent, based on their heart’s desire, not on what society (or lawmakers) decide. Women, men, children, everybody wins.
Having worked with AWARE, I know that the gender rights group actually made similar recommendations in its paper titled Feedback on the Womens Charter in 2010.
In awarding maintenance and custody to women only, the Women’s Charter has been saying, all these years, that the burden of childcare is a female one to bear alone. And that is not fair. That is not equality. Involving and honouring the roles of both the father and mother beyond old-school definitions is true equality. Everybody benefits. Not just mother and father but most of all children.
That graphic is form an AWARE report on parental leave published in 2011. The report recommendations included:
“…converting the fourth month of maternity leave into ‘parental leave’ that can be taken by either parent, and turning the first two weeks of maternity leave into mandatory paternity leave instead.”
I’m not a mother now but I hope to be one day. And when I do I would like the father of my child to co-parent with me. Not just changing diapers or washing dishes but going to school plays, doctors appointments and bedtime stories and the myriad of other things parents work at which I have no concept of as a swinging single. And I don’t want my babydaddy to be denied that right by his employer because that’s “the mother’s job” and certainly not because he doesn’t have leave! That’s not cool.
As anyone who’s been with a newborn and a young mother will know that one week of having Dad around is certainly not enough. What if grandma isn’t around and the couple don’t have domestic help? The one month that was recommended in the AWARE report, would be better, but hey, I’ll take it.
So well done lawmakers for making progress towards gender equality. I applaud this first step as a feminist and Singaporean woman who plans to be a mother one day. I do feel much more needs to be done to level the playing field, but this is something.
And to unenlightened men out there who assumed feminists would be up in arms over the Womens Charter change I say this – Start seeing that pro-women does not mean anti-men. And realise that pro-equality, means pro-everybody.