Sunday 3 April 2016

Want more babies? Let's take a brash approach

By Stefanie Yuen Thio, Published The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2016

Current pro-women policies are designed to give women more moral and financial support to continue carrying a disproportionate part of the family burden. The problem is this: If the steps do not result in a redistribution of the childcare burden from women, women will continue to not be able to cope well. These pro-family initiatives will reinforce the mother's status as a needy special interest group, and continue the economic subjugation of the woman in the workplace.

We need to structure our incentives to change how the childcare burden is shared. Here are some brash proposals:


The only viable way to lighten the load on the working mother is to forcibly redistribute the work to the father. The Government cannot mandate that the father attend school parent-teacher association meetings or take the sick child to the doctor, but it can even the burden.

In Sweden, expectant parents are collectively given 16 months' parental leave, of which three months must be taken by the father. Singaporean parents now get about four months' leave in the first year of a child's life (including maternity leave, paternity leave and childcare leave). Let's increase that to six months, of which at least two months must be taken by the father, on a "use it or lose it" basis.

By doing this, we encourage the father to be more hands-on and hope that this will set a pattern for the rest of the child's life.

Just as importantly, we make both parents share the career sacrifice that having a child entails. This more balanced distribution will encourage a woman to have more babies and/or stay in the workforce.


If having more babies and retaining women in the workforce are both national imperatives with economic upsides, then let's structure our financial incentives in line with this.

Instead of paid maternity leave at the mother's current salary level, she could be paid maternity leave compensation by the Government at a multiple of her salary. This additional payout would be conditional on her returning to work and remaining in employment for a certain minimum period.

By ascribing a higher economic value to a working mother, we financially recognise her twin contributions to the birth rate and to business generally.

We encourage her to return to work soon, and increase the financial incentives for the father to take on more responsibility in the home. If the couple have comparable earning power, this will tip the scales towards a more equitable distribution of the economic burden.


The father taking on the childcare burden is not enough. If it was only a matter of having an adult around to make sure the child did not hurt itself, our domestic worker population would take care of that. Parents in First World Singapore want to know that our children are getting the gold class in early education, in structures where we can spend pockets of time with them.

We need to invest heavily in upgraded childcare facilities that are centres of excellence in early learning, not glorified babysitters.

These centres should be accessible (perhaps near the workplace for lunchtime "pop-ins"), affordable (so the Government will need to heavily subsidise this) and must be open until late, so that career women have the flexibility of collecting their children after official working hours.

Yes, this will cost money and will be a huge logistics exercise, but that is something our country is very good at. And if the concern about the low birth rate and women leaving the workforce is essentially over the economic cost, then surely we should spend money to make money.

Sheryl Sandberg says women need to Lean In. As a working mother, my biggest challenge is to not Keel Over. I say that it's about time our policies got men to Step Up and, if it is serious about fixing the problem, for the Government to Stump Up.

Stefanie Yuen Thio is joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation. This article appeared first in the law firm's newsletter.

Mum's not quite the word in Japan's office culture
Benefits like flexible hours to woo mothers back to work often lead to them being bullied
The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2016

TOKYO • Ms Akane had always enjoyed her job at a Tokyo call centre until, unlike many Japanese mothers, she decided to return to work after her maternity leave.

It was not long before colleagues started picking on the 30-something mother for working shorter hours or being away from the office due to childcare issues.

She is is not alone. Harassment of working mothers is a growing problem in Japan, possibly aggravated by government policies aimed at keeping women in the workforce, experts say.

Ms Akane said her superiors were of little help and the harassment - mostly from female colleagues - forced her to make a decision.

"I said 'I'm leaving, I can't stand it'," said Ms Akane, who asked that her surname not be revealed. "The surprising thing was that this was mostly the attitude of my female colleagues rather than the men."

To stem a shrinking labour force, rapidly-ageing Japan is offering benefits such as flexible working hours, including no night shifts, to young mothers to staff the nation's offices and factories. But the moves have stirred jealousy and resentment in many workplaces.

"The situation is downright serious," said author Maeko Takenobu who has written several books about female employment. "Many (women) suffer in silence as they have no other choice but work."

In response, Tokyo unveiled a public service campaign to stop the harassment of working mothers, including a hotline for whistleblowers, although many women are still afraid to report workplace abuse.

Nearly half - 48 per cent - of pregnant women say they have been subject to bullying at work, according to a recent labour ministry probe. The same study found one-third of working women have experienced sexual harassment, and most did not report the abuse.

And harassment is not just confined to the workplace.

A decade ago, Japan rolled out a small badge to be worn by pregnant women, which said: "I have a baby inside me."

The button was meant to create a welcoming environment for pregnant women on subway trains and in other public places.

It was also to help emergency first responders so they would avoid treatment potentially harmful to an unborn child.

But the outcome has been a disappointment. Users are sometimes treated rudely on public transport, resulting in some women refusing to wear the badges for fear of becoming targets of harassment.

"Unfortunately, the badge is often seen as a sign of the vanity of being pregnant," said an editorial on akachan no heya, a widely followed website for pregnant women.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to pledge his support for working women as part of a wider bid to kickstart the country's struggling economy. Economists have said for years that Japan needs to make better use of its well-educated but underemployed women, which could go a long way towards plugging the labour gap as it faces an ageing and declining population.

In speech after speech, Mr Abe has urged Japan to open up to "womenomics", encouraging some of the nation's biggest firms to adopt targets for boosting the number of female executives.

While women are well represented in poorly-paid, part-time work, only a fraction of executives at 3,600 listed companies are female.

Japan was ranked 101 out of 145 in the Global Gender Gap Index 2015, released by the World Economic Forum, lower than Suriname and Azerbaijan.

Last year, cosmetics giant Shiseido created a stir when it changed a scheme that let young mothers employed as department store beauty consultants work shorter hours and have more flexible schedules.

The programme, in place since 1991, annoyed other colleagues because working mothers were often absent during the busiest periods, such as evenings and weekends.


No comments:

Post a Comment