Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye asked the Minister for Social and Family Development in light of a study which found that women are less satisfied with their marriages during and after the circuit breaker period (a) whether a similar theme has surfaced during the Conversations on Women Development sessions; (b) whether more support can be provided to married women especially mothers during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic; and (c) what more can be done to encourage men to shoulder the burden that women carry at home to strengthen marriages in Singapore.
1. I believe the Honorable MP is referring to the recent study by Associate Professor Tan Poh Lin of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and her co-authors on gendered roles in time spent on household responsibilities. This study found that mothers’ marital satisfaction fell during and after the Circuit Breaker last year. While the amount of household responsibilities increased for both mothers and fathers, Dr Tan noted that mothers still shouldered a larger share of the responsibilities which could be one reason for the slide in marital satisfaction.
2. A similar theme surfaced during the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development. Participants expressed their hope for men and women to share household responsibilities more equally, not only during the pandemic but beyond it as well.
3. Our approach has been to encourage fathers to take on more household tasks as well as be actively involved in raising their children, as there is evidence that this leads to stronger marriages and better child outcomes. Hence, even before the pandemic, the Government had progressively enhanced parental leave schemes over the years to enable fathers to play a bigger role. In 2017, the Government mandated the second week of Paternity Leave, and increased Shared Parental Leave from 1 to 4 weeks. Fathers have up to a year from their child’s birth to use these leave provisions. In total, fathers can now enjoy up to 8 weeks of leave in their child’s first year, to bond with their newborns and care for their wives. This would include six days of paid Childcare Leave, and up to six days of unpaid Infant Care Leave, both of which are extended equally to working fathers and mothers.
4. Ever since the Circuit Breaker, the Government has worked closely with partners like Families for Life (FFL) and the Centre for Fathering, which drives the Dads for Life and Mums for Life movements, to intensify online resources so both mothers and fathers can better cope with the greater family and household demands. FFL has also organised the ongoing series of #AskFFL interviews where both mums and dads can ask FFL’s experts on a wide range of topics including infant care, home-based learning, and positive parenting. These efforts promote joint parenting, which strengthens marriages as husbands and wives mutually support one another and talk through difficulties they encounter with their children or with one another.
5. An Online Counselling pilot was launched in Apr 2020, during the pandemic. It is a service provided by the Community Psychology Hub and funded by MSF to provide support to individuals who are going through marital, divorce and parenting difficulties over live chat and email counselling. We encourage all who require support to use this service.
6. The Government also continues to encourage companies to support their employees by adopting flexible work arrangements (FWAs) and other work-life practices, especially since parents have had to adjust their childcare and work from home routines frequently given the unpredictability of the pandemic situation. While these measures were enhanced during the pandemic, the Government will monitor the effects of the higher use of FWAs and study ways to entrench best practices.
7. MSF has dedicated 2021 as the Year of Celebrating SG Women to recognise the importance of our women’s contributions. We hope that the partnership between our women and men will deepen and grow, with respectful relations and equitable family roles as the cornerstone. This can help create a conducive environment for marriages to thrive.
8. While the Government has put in place measures to support married women and strengthen marriages, the family and community continue to play important roles in effecting a mindset shift for men to share the responsibilities that women carry at home.