A Dad’s Response to the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development

By Bryan Tan, CEO, Centre for Fathering, MUMs for Life and DADs for Life, father to 4 children

The White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development, which arose from a year-long conversation on women development in Singapore, surfaced recommendations for 25 action plans to better look after the interests of women. As a father to three sons and a daughter, I am encouraged that Singapore is progressing towards a future where men and women can stand together as equal partners and contributors to society. However I noted that of the 6,000 participants in the nation-wide conversation, only 20% were men. Since this is not solely a woman’s issue, there is much that we as men and fathers can do, to ensure that all women thrive and achieve their aspirations in Singapore.

So, as a Son…
I am grateful that there is an emphasis to recognise and support the contributions of caregivers. Lockdown measures during the Covid-19 pandemic have allowed many of us to spend more time at home, and appreciate the care-giving roles and its associated sacrifices.
My mother has sacrificed much in terms of earnings and retirement savings, to ensure that my brother and I individuate well into being useful citizens. I am glad that our Government is enhancing the Retirement Sum Topping-Up Scheme tax relief cap and Matched Retirement Savings Scheme, to help her accumulate the Basic Retirement Sum.
I am convicted to help her rediscover the dreams she had before she became a mum, and better support her aspirations in this season of her life. I want to see my mum “go for her mountain”, and be able to fulfil everything that she wants to do in her life.

As a Man…
I believe that we must step up to prevent violence against women. We cannot condone such actions, regardless of precipitating factors.
Although it is encouraging to see all the enhancements to legislation proposed in the White Paper, much more needs to be done to prevent and protect women from the undesirable behaviours of some men.
We, men, have to take the lead to regulate ourselves, and ensure that every school, workplace and home in our neighbourhood is safe.
We can start by speaking out against all instances of disrespect and objectification of women, and even addressing the negative impact “locker room talks” have on women. Access to pornography in Singapore should also be limited, to minimize objectification of women.
We must also counter that perception that pushing for greater women empowerment and leadership in all aspects of society is to unduly favour the women’s movement.
We have to ensure that women are recognised on their own merits, by addressing all the challenges that they have to face on an unequal playing field. They must never be denied opportunities to be the best that they can be.Workplace fairness is an aim that we should all strive towards, in order to ensure equal opportunities for everyone. I am glad that our Government will be enshrining the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices in law.
Apart from ensuring that our workplace culture and processes facilitate the reporting of workplace discrimination and grievances, the global pandemic had also allowed me to appreciate the value of flexible work arrangements in helping my colleagues thrive at work and at home.
A third of our staff at the Centre for Fathering Limited are employed on a part-time basis, so they can fulfil both work and home responsibilities in productive and meaningful manners. Many of them hold management positions too.
Since the pandemic started, everyone has been placed on flexible work arrangements. We have found that these arrangements can continue indefinitely, because staff have so successfully integrated work and life at home as to achieve peak performances at both.
We have also structured our organisation to become more “porous”, so people can leave and re-join us again at different life stages, thereby bringing new skillsets and experiences that can further enhance our organization’s capability and capacity.
Encouraging parental leave utilisation is also a key emphasis at our office. However I realised that for it to really take place, my colleagues require a good understanding of their partnership with their spouses, especially with regards to how they manage their households and care-giving responsibilities.

Therefore as a Husband…
I must be cognizant of the needs of my wife to fulfil her business obligations, and continually coordinate with her to ensure we achieve the optimal outcomes for both our businesses and household.
There was a time when I took for granted that she would always take time off her business to tend to the children’s needs instead of me, but I learnt that the disparity made her feel that her business was less important than my work.
Today, I take my fair share of leave to tend to the children, and to support her during the hectic business seasons, because our marriage is a partnership that I have learnt never to compromise on that front ever again.
I fully utilised my paternity leave, and more, to render her support both physically and emotionally, by being present in all the significant moments of our family life.

Finally, as a Father…
I must raise my three sons to honour their mother and respect women, and my daughter must know how she should be treated as a woman, a wife and a mother as she grows up.
I must equip my children with the blueprints of what a thriving marriage and family should be, by modelling it for them in the manner I honour my parents, respect their mother and love them unconditionally.
To allow my children to inherit a better world, I have to start creating workplaces that afford equal opportunities to everyone, and doing my part to influence society in order for women to be equally recognised, respected and empowered.
Since it takes a village to raise our children…
All of us have a part to play in building a society that we can thrive in. As fathers and men, we must overcome the gender stereotypes that limit what women can do or become in Singapore.
In fact, men can benefit as much as women when gender stereotypes are recognised and addressed.
Many of us are constrained by societal expectations of how men should perform at work and at home. By recognising everyone’s individuality and talents, more men and women could be empowered to realise their aspirations.
As fathers and men, we play a critical role in encouraging such mindset shifts in society, and being exemplary role models to others. We can do that by being more actively involved at home and in the lives of our children, and championing equal opportunities for women at work.
Together, we can create a society where all Singaporeans can participate fully in society, and have full and equal opportunities to thrive regardless of gender.