Problem with gender-neutral laws
THE chief problem with a gender-neutral maintenance law is that it ignores the fact that men and women are equal but different, and consequently play dissimilar roles in the family unit.
Despite the rise in the education level and earning power of women, they continue to make more financial sacrifices for the family as compared to their husbands when they enter into marriage.
This sacrifice increases significantly when the couple decides to have children.
Statistically and anecdotally, women still bear most of the burden when it comes to matters relating to the family and children.
In an Aware survey last year, the dominant perception among Singaporeans is that women should be the ones taking primary responsibility for household chores and caregiving.
This perception plays out in reality, where domestic labour remains unequally shared and countless women – regardless of income levels – continue to make substantial contributions to the family in terms of caring for children as well as managing the household.
While many women continue to work (some work only part-time), others give up their careers to care for the family.
For those women who continue working, they often have to take on less demanding positions in order to juggle both work and family. The result is that they lag behind their male colleagues and lose out on valuable opportunities.
This financial detriment that women suffer has grown more pronounced, given that women have the same education level and earning capacity as men in today’s society.
In contrast, husbands rarely have to make the same type and degree of sacrifice.
Gender-neutral laws will gloss over such inherent inequities between husband and wife.
The rationale behind the law imposing a duty on men to maintain their former wives is to even out any financial inequalities between the spouses.
If marriage is to be an equal cooperative partnership of efforts, then both parties should leave the marriage on equal terms. To deprive women of maintenance would be to ignore the immeasurable sacrifices they have made.
Zhao Xinying (Ms)