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Commentary: Penjana Stimulus Package positive for women’s empowerment, but four further reform items needed

Below is Women’s Aid Organisation’s (WAO) response to the Penjana Economic Stimulus Package announcement. Please attribute quotes to: Sumitra Visvanathan, Executive Director, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

We view positively the gender-responsive components of Penjana stimulus package, including childcare subsidies, flexible work arrangement incentives, and cash transfers for single mothers. This is a good start towards retaining women in the workforce by helping working parents cope with the double burden of paid professional activities and unpaid care responsibilities.

The government should also consider the following to further empower women’s employment and safety:

    • Extend the wage subsidies programme to women in vulnerable employment. This wage subsidy policy narrowly targets workers in formal employment, ignoring a substantial segment of individuals in vulnerable employment, including the self-employed, informal workers, and unpaid family workers, who are disproportionately women. Over one-fourth of working women—25.9%—fall under this category of vulnerable employment, as compared to the 20.9% of the male labour force that comprises this category.
    • Carry out the pending Employment Act 1955 amendments. The amendments – which have already been drafted – include anti-discrimination provisions, facilitating flexible work arrangements, and introducing paternity leave, among others. Without paternity leave, the care burden for new borns in placed solely on mothers. We repeat our call for these amendments in the next parliamentary seating.
    • Shift norms that place disproportionate household responsibilities on women. The six Rs (resolve, resilience, restart, recovery, revitalise, reform) to kickstart the economy must be complemented by three more Rs—Redistribute, Reduce and Recognise care work. Undertake public communication campaigns to shift mindsets away from sexist and discriminatory views on gender-roles.
    • One important component that has been lacking in the past few rounds of the stimulus package is the protection of women and girl’s safety during the pandemic. During the pandemic, there has been a rise in gender-based violence cases, especially domestic violence. Spending on social welfare will enable us to reap the double dividend of providing jobs in the social work sector while protecting the populace. We call for the government to increase spending on crisis support hotline workers, operation of temporary shelters for gender-based violence survivors, and training of more welfare officers.”


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