One of the most urgent social problems that has existed in the society throughout the course of history is the problem of gender inequality. Women have always been regarded and treated in a stricter way, their rights have always been limited, and they had less priorities and possibilities than men. Although this misbalance have been present in all types of societies and is really unfair in many aspects, serious steps to break down the barriers dividing the human and social rights and freedoms have been made relatively recently. One of the key documents that have been composed as a legal tool to guarantee women social rights and freedoms equal to those of men and to protect them from violation of their rights was the Singapore Women’s Charter. The charter was adopted by the Parliament of Singapore in 1961 and the main purpose of document itself represents an extremely interesting object of studying, research, and analysis.

In my opinion, Singapore Women’s Charter has a series of both advantages and disadvantages as it is implemented in practice in the society the representatives of which have absolutely different practical experience in relation to the document. First of all, it is necessary to note that the charter was composed to protect the rights of women as in times past they faced constant social injustice and gender discrimination (Devasahayam, 2011). They did not have equal rights with men as the representatives of the particular society, as citizens, and as family members and workers. The Women’s Charter gave women the needed protection and support. On the other hand, a lot of problems that were not directly connected with the charter emerged in the society, which now are substantial reasons for criticism of the Charter.

First, I want to mention men’s dissatisfaction with the Charter. The main reason of it is the name of the charter, as Women’s Charter is definitely the document to protect women and there is no analog to this document for the male population (Leong, 2007).  However, the creation of such a document would be pointless.

The second important aspect is the new laws that give women absolute superiority within the sphere of custody issues. The charter gives women the supremacy over men in the majority of cases, and fathers have practically no opportunity to keep the children after divorce.

The third and most interesting from my point of view is the maintenance question. Here, women also have the privilege to receive maintenance that will guarantee them the same standard of living as they had in marriage. This rule is valid even in the cases when the woman was unfaithful or used to behave is such a way that gave the husband no opportunity to keep the marriage. In addition, the law does not take into account the cases where the husband took care of the household while the wife was earning money. That is why this issue represents such a point for a discussion. The amount of criticism leveled at the Charter as well as the general situation within the society of Singapore changes; therefore, the majority of women in the country currently have the same level of education, working opportunities, and social rights as men, and the charter is now not that necessary (Leong, 2011). In the past, the situation was absolutely different. Women did not have proper education and had no chance to get any job that could suit their needs, skills, and possibilities together with the religious traditions. Today all women can have the same education as men, and their work is valued and compensated in accordance with the unified standards that are universal for both genders. They also have fixed social rights and freedoms as family members (as daughters, mothers, and wives), and that is why a lot of men today regard this Charter as anti-male, even though it was originally created for absolutely different purposes and does not have such a context (Leong, 2009).

If I could amend the Singapore Women’s Charter, I would concentrate my attention on the maintenance question, as it is really one of the most topical problems for the modern Singapore society. The maintenance issue does not have as much protection power as it had in the past because women are no more as dependent on their husbands as they used to be in the previous centuries. The maintenance has become the purpose of the growing number of divorces, and it seems that there is also a growing number of marriages being registered only for the future maintenance purpose. Today the Women’s Charter only stipulates the women’s right to get maintenance from their spouses. If this law was valid in the previous times, it would be fair and reasonable, as at those times men really had absolute superiority in their professional career and financial income. But now women are also involved in career building and business market, and a lot of them earn more than their husbands (Goonesekere, 2006). So the maintenance inequality appears to be old-fashioned and subjective; I think that this area needs some corrections to be applicable to modern social conditions as well as more efficient and reputable. I propose to improve the Charter by rewriting this statement in such a way that will give a husband the opportunity to get maintenance from his wife if he is a person with disabilities or has some severe illness. There are a series of specific situations where husbands also need support or protection. However, special attention has to be paid to the type of the occasion in question as the situations when the husbands who ignored both professional career and housework want to get maintenance from their hard-working wives should be eliminated. In order to guarantee the women’s rights, it is necessary to guarantee the full rightness of the process and to set up a system that will exclude any kind of illegal machinations (Begum, 2013). 

The realities of the Women’s Charted effect are nor optimistic for the society of Singapore. From the 2006, the number of yearly divorces has been continuously increasing and on 2010 it was about 9000 per year (Lee, 2010). Even more, the cases are getting more and more subjective in the questions of maintenance and parental care. In the same year, the series of new penalties and sanctions have been implemented to the Charter that are used in case of the refusal to complete the maintenance payments. In addition, a severe control on the earnings and spending of the citizens will guarantee the total control on the finances of the men and give them no opportunity to escape the payments in the maximum scale. The fact that there are more than 100000 households within a country, the ongoing pressure give men no opportunity to protect their role and authority within a family and women therefore appear to be the real headers within the couple (Seneviratne, 2002).

The example of Singapore is not the only one within the sphere of the maintenance. The same can be found in many other countries (Leong, 2008).  When analyzing the Singapore Women’s Charter, it is important to compare this section with the laws of other countries. In India, the court can pass temporary maintenance to the spouse who was separated from the rest of the family because of a serious conflict or in the situation when one of the spouses applied for a divorce. In India court takes into account a number of specific characteristics that are individual for every particular case, thereby ensuring an objective decision. This refers to the monthly income of each of the spouses, their education level, the period of time they were in marriage, and a series of other details.  Comparing this situation with the one in Singapore, it is evident that in India the maintenance can be applied to both wife and husband depending on the situation, which is more suitable in the modern judicial system. In addition, the Indian court takes into account the factors that are really important in every single case and gives the opportunity to count the maintenance that will be optimal for every specific situation.

In South Africa maintenance also occupies a specific position within the family law. Here, the maintenance is not mandatory, but it can take place in cases when a spouse suffers from a disease and cannot look after himself/herself. The maintenance here is defined by the appropriate living standard and includes such necessary aspects as food, clothes, accommodation, and necessary medical care. As we can see, here the law also does not give advantage to men or women but is applied to all people regardless of such a subjective characteristic. In addition, here the law seeks to ensure the proper living standard but not the one a spouse has had before, which makes it more objective (Chan, 2011). 

Sri Lanka has a law on the maintenance that is comparatively new. The Maintenance Act was signed in 1999. Previously, the law gave the right to be maintained only to the wives. But today the law defines the right of the spouse to get the maintenance from the other spouse in the cases when it is impossible for him/her to provide himself/herself with the proper financial support. The new law refers to both genders. It also takes into account the specific details such as adultery which does not give the opportunity to ask for the maintenance. The same refers to the situation when spouses do not live together by mutual agreement. This law gives the opportunity to both spouses to seek for justice regardless of their gender.

I find Sri Lanka example to be a perfect one to follow for Singapore. This country also used to have the maintenance law similar to the one provided by the Women’s Charter. Nonetheless, as time passed, the topicality of this question became doubtful and to some extent useless; therefore, the maintenance law was changed for the new one that met all the requirements of the actual situation with the society. This change made the country’s family law more efficient and modern, which also improved its judicial system. And the judicial system is one of the important components of country’s reputation on the world arena. That is why I think that such change will support the country and give it new opportunities. This innovation will help Singapore to shape its judicial system in accordance with the current social situation and to make the process more objective, which in the end is the main role of the administration of justice.

Singapore Women’s Charter is a document that was elaborated for the support and safety of the rights of women within the Singapore society. This charter was passed in 1961 and therefore the document used to meet the needs of that period of time. The Charter was really a revolutionary one as it gave women a series of important possibilities and made them full-fledged members of the society. But, although the document and its value for the protection of women’s and general human rights cannot be overestimated, there is a real need to change it in accordance with the realities of the 21st century. There are a number of points that must be revised; however, the question of maintenance is of vital importance. According to the charter, only women can ask for maintenance from their spouses. But today women have equal education and professional opportunities, and, therefore, they are no more dependent on their husbands and can even become more successful that their spouses. A number of the similar laws implemented in different countries of the world were analyzed. The best example for Singapore to follow is Sri Lanka. This country used to have a similar maintenance law, but it was changed in accordance with the demands of the modern time period. This change will help Singapore Women’s Charter to keep its reliability and reputation; in addition, it will support the objectiveness of the judicial processes in the country.

References

  1. Begum, S.G. (2013). Personal laws of Sri Lanka on matters relevant to marriage, divorce and maintenance and its impact on women. Retrieved from: http://ihr.org.mk/en/legal-dialogue/legal-dialogue-se/215-personal-laws-of-sri-lanka-on-matters-relevant-to-marriage-divorce-and-maintenance-and-its-impact-on-women.html
  2. Chan, W.C. (2011). Giving homemakers due recognition: Five landmark cases on the road to gender equality. Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 111-128.
  3. Devasahayam, T. W. (2011). Singapore Women’s Charter: Roles, responsibilities and rights in marriage. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  4. Goonesekere, S. (2006). Family support and maintenance: Emerging issues in some developing countries with mixed jurisdictions. Family Court Review, 44(3), 361-375.
  5. Lee, E.(2010).Women's Charter 2010. The Women’s Wing. Retrieved from: http://womenswing.pap.org.sg/articles/viewarticles.php?id=299&syear=2010&workflowcode=
  6. Leong, W. K. (2007). The elements of family law in Singapore. Singapore: LexisNexis.
  7. Leong, W. K. (2008). Fifty years and more of the Women’s Charter of Singapore. Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 1-24.
  8. Leong, W. K. (2009). The law in Singapore on rights and responsibilities in marital arguments. Sydney Law Review, 32(257), 257-272.
  9. Leong, W. K. (2011). The Singapore Women’s Charter: 50 questions. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  10. Seneviratne, K. (2002). He says, she says: Divorce Singapore-style. Singapore Window. Retrieved from; http://www.singapore-window.org/sw02/020207at.htm
  11. Devasahayam, T. W. (2011). Singapore women’s charter: Roles, responsibilities and rights in marriage. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies..
  12. Leong, W. K. (2007). The elements of family law in Singapore. Singapore: LexisNexis..
  13. Leong, W. K. (2011). The Singapore Women’s Charter: 50 questions. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  14. Leong, W. K. (2009). The law in Singapore on rights and responsibilities in marital arguments. Sydney Law Review, 32(257), 257-272.
  15. Goonesekere, S. (2006). Family support and maintenance: Emerging issues in some developing countries with mixed jurisdictions. Family Court Review, 44(3), 361-375..
  16. Begum, S.G. (2013). Personal laws of Sri Lanka on matters relevant to marriage, divorce and maintenance and its impact on women. Retrieved from: http://ihr.org.mk/en/legal-dialogue/legal-dialogue-se/215-personal-laws-of-sri-lanka-on-matters-relevant-to-marriage-divorce-and-maintenance-and-its-impact-on-women.html.
  17. Lee, E.(2010).Women's Charter 2010. The Women’s Wing. Retrieved from: http://womenswing.pap.org.sg/articles/viewarticles.php?id=299&syear=2010&workflowcode= 
  18. Seneviratne, K. (2002). He says, she says: Divorce Singapore-style. Singapore Window. Retrieved from; http://www.singapore-window.org/sw02/020207at.htm
  19. Leong, W. K. (2008). Fifty years and more of the women’s charter of Singapore. Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 1-24.
  20. Chan, W.C. (2011). Giving homemakers due recognition: Five landmark cases on the road to gender equality. Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 111-128.
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