How has society shaped or contributed to the struggles faced by women?
Although social norms are always evolving, women are still expected to nurture their children even as they hold a full-time job. Women are constantly juggling the multiple roles assigned to them (willingly or unwillingly) and may end up being physically and emotionally drained.
As a single mother of 4 children and eldest sister to my 2 siblings, I have been performing the role of a caregiver since young and hardly have time for myself. In addition to my parenting challenges, I have to make time to connect with my parents so they would not feel lonely. As a supervisor to my staff, it is my responsibility to think of innovative ways to motivate them and support their career development. I also have to maintain my top performance at work to stay on good terms with my superior. As I inch closer to mid-life, I find myself struggling with planning and preparing myself for retirement. With all these long-term responsibilities and new struggles, I find it difficult to carve time out for myself.
As I go through life, I have come to realise that I cannot achieve everything. Therefore, I have to set realistic goals. I make it a point to be resilient in being disciplined with my finances and manage my time well. I have mustered the courage to be honest and open with my peers about my struggles. Fortunately, they are supportive friends who always accept my shortfalls and understand my struggles. They always provide alternative perspectives and wise advice to help me stay positive and grounded.
Having experienced such struggles, I hope to lend support to women in Singapore. However, I believe that more resources and centres should be made available as well. For example, there should be longer childcare hours and more weekend care centres to support mothers who work multiple jobs. Having childcare services beyond normal childcare centre operation hours would be very helpful for single parents, low-income foreign wives or those with limited social support. There can be more self-help groups and counselling agencies which specialise in supporting mothers with children of special needs, mental health issues and addictions. These services would also be very helpful in equipping mothers with the skills to better manage their children’s needs.
Gender norms set societal expectations—women are often expected to sacrifice their dream, career, leisure activities and hobbies to care for the family, especially if their spouse is raised by conservative parents. This kind of gender discrimination can adversely affect the marriage and turn into an unhealthy intergenerational expectation. Hence, I believe that gender roles should evolve such that both sexes shoulder an equitable number of responsibilities. Husbands and wives should have mutual respect for each other and partake in shared duties, such as household chores.
Overall, the right kind of balance to strike is for women to be treated with respect and not be overburdened with caregiving obligations—at the same time, society can stand to be more inclusive and supportive towards them.
By Faith Lee Soo Feng, a working mother with 4 children