Nominated Member of Parliament Yip Pin Xiu focused her Budget 2020 debate speech on Thursday (Feb. 27) on two issues she said are close to her heart: ending sexual violence and caregiving.
The three-time Paralympic gold medallist called for more comprehensive sexual education in schools, the development of a national guideline for addressing campus sexual violence, and more support to be offered to caregivers.
Importance of sex education to address social norms and attitudes
While many efforts to address sexual violence focus on legislation, punishment, and remedying the effects for survivors, said Yip, it is important to address social norms and attitudes that continue to enable sexual violence:
“The prevalence of sexual violence, committed overwhelmingly by men against women, reveals an ugly truth about the way society views women — that women are not human.
Sexual violence is fundamentally rooted in the idea that women are objects devoid of agency, rights, and feelings; that women exist for man’s pleasure; that women are not equal to men.”
Thus, sex education in schools is an important tool for changing these views in order to “transform society’s understanding and views for the better”, said Yip.
She shared that the current sex education curriculum needs to expand to include discussion about issues such as consent, gender roles, human rights, gender equality, discrimination, and sexual violence.
Sexual violence on campuses
According to a previous Parliamentary reply issued by Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung, there were 56 cases of sexual misconduct reported to autonomous universities in Singapore between academic years 2015/2016 and 2017/2018.
Of these cases, 37 were reported to the police.
Noting this, Yip said there were likely many other cases that went unreported, considering the stigma around sexual violence.
She referenced the case involving National University of Singapore student Monica Baey last year, in which the man caught filming Baey in the shower was given only a one-semester suspension, ordered to go for mandatory counselling, and told to write an apology letter.
Yip commended Baey for her “brave sharing”, saying that the case made it apparent that institution-specific codes of conduct for dealing with sexual violence are often “inadequate”:
“There is an uneven level of protection across institutions, with differing definitions of what constitutes harassment and varying complaint, investigation, and disciplinary processes.
This means whether a student gets their case investigated, how it will be investigated, and what the outcome may be, and what’s support they receive as victims would differ depending on where to go to school.”
Development of a national code
“This should not be the case”, she added. “Violence is violence, and should be dealt with the same way regardless of institution setting.”
Yip called for a national code addressing sexual violence on campuses to be developed, which could then be adopted by all educational institutions.
This code, she said, would lay out the duties of the school in order to ensure the following:
- Zero tolerance on sexual harassment
- Providing adequate victim care support
- A set of standards and principles for investigating and managing complaints
Technology-facilitated sexual violence
Given the increase in number of sexual violence cases involving technology, such as through social media, spy cameras, and mobile recording devices, Yip also suggested the development of mechanisms to ensure the swift removal of non-consensually shared intimate materials.
According to women’s rights group AWARE, the number of technology-facilitated sexual violence cases they have seen has almost tripled in the past three years.
Yip emphasised that the effects of technology-facilitated sexual violence on the survivor can as traumatic as other forms of sexual violence, with the invasion of privacy and non-consensual sharing of images of themselves creating a “distressing sense of helplessness” that last even after the conviction of the perpetrator.
She raised Australia as an example, where, people are able to submit a complaint to the eSafety Commissioner online if they see intimate recordings of themselves being shared non-consensually.
The commissioner is then able to issue removal notices to have the materials in question removed within 48 hours.
Better support for caregivers, who are disproportionately women
Yip separately called for better support to be given to caregivers, as it becomes a more and more necessary task for the younger generations as the old age dependency ratio — which compares the number of people over the age of 65 with the number of people between 15 and 64 years old — has declined over the years.
In 1990, the ratio was 10.5 younger people to one elderly person. In 2019, however, this halved to 4.5.
Women are also disproportionately affected by these caregiving responsibilities due to societal norms, said Yip.
She cited a national survey on caregiving for elderly individuals from 2011 that found that the majority of informal caregivers in Singapore were women, and usually were the wives or adult daughters of the care recipients.
This pressure on women to be caregivers, said Yip, also has an economic impact: in 2018, more than 280,000 women were out of Singapore’s labour force, mainly due to caregiving responsibilities to relatives or family members apart from children.
This was in contrast to only roughly 15,000 men giving the same reason for being outside the labour force.
“How can we better redistribute caregiving responsibilities between men and women, but also between the family, community, and state?” Yip asked.
Stronger policies necessary
While she recognised that some government initiatives, such as subsidies for long-term care services and the levy on foreign domestic workers, have been helpful, Yip called for stronger efforts and bolder moves.
With the last national survey on informal caregiving being almost one decade old, Singapore needs more up-to-date and robust data on caregivers gathered regularly, she said, in order to understand the challenges they face.
She also highlighted two workplace policy suggestions raised by experts and civil society organisations:
- Legislating the right for employees to request flexible work arrangements, noting that “workplaces need to accommodate care, not the other way around”.
- The conversion of childcare leave to family care leave, as it is currently optional for a company to grant the latter to its employees.
Currently, she pointed out, only 20 per cent of companies in 2018 offered some type of paid family care leave.
Yip also called on the government to review the subsidy systems, in order to ensure that caregiving options, such as hiring a professional home care nurse, going for a daycare centre, or living in a retirement home, are not “prohibitively high” for families.
“It is my hope in 2020 that we dedicate more attention to addressing these critical issues and make greater strides towards a more inclusive society and a safer society for all”, said Yip in conclusion.
Top photos via Facebook / Yip Pin Xiu and Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash.