COVID-19 economic recovery taskforce does not have enough women: Sylvia Lim

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Opposition Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim. PHOTO: Screengrab from Gov.sg YouTube channel
Opposition Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim. PHOTO: Screengrab from Gov.sg YouTube channel

SINGAPORE — Opposition veteran Sylvia Lim warned against “blind spots” such as neglecting certain groups in society and clinging to outdated ways of thinking, as Singapore plots its economic recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking on Thursday (4 June) during the parliamentary debate on the Fortitude Budget, which will provide $33 billion in financial support for businesses, workers and households, the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC noted that the Emerging Stronger Taskforce (EST) comprises 17 “eminent persons” - but only two women, or 11 per cent.

Co-chaired by Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee and PSA International Group CEO Tan Chong Meng, the EST has been tasked with managing the long-term economic impact of the coronavirus.

Noting that any agency looking at long term recovery should include diverse voices, Lim noted, “This may be a missed opportunity, especially when it has been noted that management of the COVID-19 crisis has been particularly successful so far in Taiwan and New Zealand, with women at the helm.

“Also, there seems to be a weak representation of multiracial voices, as there is no Malay member on the task force. It also does not seem that there is any representation for SMEs as well. With inadequate balance, will the final report and recommendations risk having blind spots that will prevent us from truly emerging stronger as a nation?”

The chairperson of the Workers’ Party added that it is “especially necessary” that the EST include those familiar with segments that bore a disproportionate brunt of the virus. “While men appear more prone to succumb to the virus, it is women and girls who (disproportionately) pay the social and economic toll.”

United Nations study

The 55-year-old alluded to a United Nations report on 9 April which concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic entails a “shadow pandemic”: exacerbating gender inequality. Besides a spike in domestic violence here and globally - such cases recorded by the Singapore Police Force have risen by 22 per cent since the partial lockdown started - there has been significant employment loss for women who hold the majority of insecure, informal and lower paying jobs.

“The global health workforce is estimated to comprise 67 per cent women with many women in (such) roles, most exposed to the virus,” noted Lim.

Women have also been disproportionately affected in other ways, with women bearing the brunt of family care responsibilities. “Anecdotally, if one looks at Singapore's home-based learning for students, mothers on the whole appear to be spending much more time with their children than fathers, who may also be home during this period.”

In addition, foreign domestic workers face overwork and are having inadequate rest.

“The UN urges governments to ensure that their response to the COVID-19 crisis does not intensify the gender inequality crisis. To that end, one of the UN's key recommendations is to ensure women's equal representation in all COVID-19 response planning and decision making,” said Lim.

She urged the EST not to be restricted by outmoded models, which may be inadequate or inappropriate today, and called for more stabilisers in the system such as redundancy or unemployment insurance, which might have reduced the need for government expenditure to support workers.

“If for instance, CPF members have some access to their excess CPF funds, even before they reach 55, some would not be facing the cliff edge today. These are just two examples of what I mean by the task force not being shackled by the models of the past.”

The country’s unprecedented fourth Budget for its current financial year brings the total of pandemic-related measures to almost $93 billion.

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