Whether it is fighting the stigma of being a stay-at-home mum, or struggling to meet the expectations of being a mother, caregiver, friend and employee all rolled into one, women face myriad challenges. These difficulties may be exacerbated by added pressure through social media, and work-from-home arrangements for some in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our “Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development”, began in September 2020, when the Government came together with partners from the People and Private sectors to organise a series of dialogues to share our aspirations and seek consensus on how Singapore women can progress further.
The Conversations revolve around key issues women face at home, workplaces, schools and in the community. The recommendations gathered from these Conversations and accompanying feedback channels will be consolidated into a White Paper in the second half of 2021.
As participant Ms Vanessa Puah, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Focus on the Family, a pro-family charity, puts it: “These Conversations are important because there is so much of a woman’s value to be celebrated, and there is so much to empower, whether it is in her role as a wife, daughter, mum, employee or a leader.”
Ms Puah attended a People’s Association (PA)-organised dialogue on 12 December 2020, alongside 60 other participants from all walks of life. Although she had expected participants to include only women, she was heartened to be able to discuss these key issues with men who were also participating passionately in discussions.
As a mother of one, what resonated with her most was the discussion about self-care.
“In this fast-paced society, there’s a lot of emphasis on having it all. Women need to take care of the kids, be good at work and be a good daughter… You think about doing everything for everyone, but you don’t necessarily think about self-care,” she elaborates, adding that the pressure is higher on women, as they tend to shoulder most of the caregiving load.
Reflecting on the discussions, Ms Puah added that the issue of self-care being raised by many participants indicates a growing awareness of its importance. She shared that, in addition to greater equality between men and women at work and at home, more can be done to encourage women to rest, recharge and rejuvenate so they can juggle their roles better.
Ms Puah was also encouraged by the candid discussions surrounding the challenges women face as a parent and an employee.
Firstly, the issue of stay-at-home mothers returning to work. As she views Singapore as a fairly progressive society, Ms Puah was surprised to learn from the Conversation that some companies still view candidates who have taken a break from work unfavourably, making it difficult for some stay-at-home mums to return to the workforce. This is a pity, Ms Puah says, as the workplace loses valuable talent, and the woman also loses an avenue to contribute to society.
Secondly, how best to juggle between family and work commitments. At Focus on the Family, Ms Puah has found that a family-friendly work culture can help. For example, she and her colleagues bring their children to the office if they need to. The organisation also measures performance in terms of outcomes instead of time spent at work. This gives employees who are parents the flexibility to adjust their schedules, and be present for both the company and their families.
Ms Puah also hopes to see more partnerships among corporates, community groups and the social services sector to alleviate the caregiving burden of women from lower-income families or those who are single parents. This will allow women to focus on work, while still ensuring their families are taken care of.
Such support is especially important now with the increased demands that home-based learning and work-from-home situations have created, Ms Puah says.
“Not everyone has found the sweet spot of work-life integration since working from home. Some feel they are working even longer hours, and hence feel more stressed. With better work-life harmony, I believe women will do better at work.”
The Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development continues in 2021. If you have ideas on how we can collectively address the challenges and mindset changes needed for greater equality between men and women, we want to hear from you!