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Is the Bicentennial Bonus a consolation prize in the worst place for women to work among ‘gender-equal’ nations?

Some 300,000 Singaporeans between the ages of 50 and 64 with less than S$60,000 in retirement savings in their CPF accounts will receive a bonus of S$1,000, sixty percent of whom are women

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Singapore—Josephine Teo, the country’s Manpower Minister said in Parliament on Wednesday, February 27, that a S$1,000 Bicentennial Bonus Central Provident Fund (CPF) top-up that would be given to women is a “tribute” to them. These women, she said, stayed at home to take care of their families even as others went to work.

However, this “tribute” stands in sharp contrast to Singapore’s rating as the “worst place for women to work among top ‘gender-equal’ nations,” according to a study done by an Australian finance site, Finder.

Ms Teo had said in Parliament that the bonus “recognises that they had fewer years to build up their retirement savings.”

She added, “We don’t usually apply the gender lens when debating our Budget, but when we do, it’s clear that every Budget benefits women in significant ways. And they all add up to a lot of support.”

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According to the Budget that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat discussed last week, around 300,000 Singaporeans between the ages of 50 to 64 with less than S$60,000 in retirement savings in their CPF accounts will receive a bonus of S$1,000, sixty percent of whom are women.

This bonus, said Ms Teo, will help these women as they grow older.

“Even today when women have more choices, many dedicate their lives to their families by staying home to personally take care of their needs. We don’t say it often enough, but their sacrifices do not just make a difference to their families – they also make a difference to our nation-building.”

Meanwhile, the study from Finder, which came out in January, showed that among 16 nations that are touted to enjoy gender equality, Singapore was at the bottom of the list.

The study is based on ten metrics in all. Singapore was ranked for eight of those metrics, since for two categories—job security and extra household hours compared to men, Singapore has insufficient data.

Singapore ranked at the bottom of the list in three categories: First, the gender pay gap, which is at 20 percent. According to Finder, this is the biggest gender wage gap among “gender-equal” nations. In Denmark, which topped the list, the gender pay gap is less than 6 percent.

Singapore also came last in the average number of working hours—45 hours, and annual holidays—17 days. In the Netherlands, women only work 25 hours per week. And in Austria 43 days of holiday leave.

One other shocking point of comparison is that in Singapore, the combined maternity and paternity leave is 20 weeks. In Finland, it’s as much as 161 weeks.

In terms of cost of living for women, Singapore ranked two spaces from the bottom, and as for filling board positions, women in Singapore came in 14th out of the 16 countries.

However, it’s possible that the Government is endeavoring to increase its support for working women since Ms Teo announced in Parliament on Wednesday that next week, the Manpower Ministry will discuss additional initiatives with this purpose.

She added that elderly women are the target of assistance programmes from the Government since women now live longer than ever.

In a Facebook post, she wrote, “It is also worth noting that the Government’s care and support for older women goes well beyond one-time gestures like top-ups. Today, the life expectancy of women in Singapore is 85 years old – it is a fact that we live longer, and will possibly outlive our loved ones. Many schemes introduced by Government do in fact, benefit women more.”

Around two-thirds of the recipients of the Silver Support Scheme are women, she added.

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