Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Singapore's Women's Charter and reverse discrimination


The emancipation of women is a critical pillar of modern society. Without a solid foundation built upon women's rights, it is virtually impossible to build a just and equitable society.

In Singapore, the Women's Charter is a seminal piece of legislation designed to protect women's rights. The only serious shortcoming with the Charter is that it does not apply to all segments of Singapore's female population. Currently, significant parts of the Charter do not apply to persons married under Singapore's Sharia or Muslim law.

But that is altogether another debate.

Today I write about one aspect of 'reverse discrimination.' I am not talking about claims that Singapore's courts favor females in harassment or 'outrage of modesty' cases. Instead, I refer to hiring practices by some employers.

As a member of a minority group (actually, a minority within a minority!), I am well aware of the pitfalls of not speaking Mandarin Chinese and the implicit and explicit advantages being Chinese brings in Chinese majority Singapore. However, this post is about employer(s) who discriminate against a particular sex in their employment practices (see photo below).

Advertisement posted on shop door in Singapore. (Photo taken in February 2014.)
Excluding men from any job is unfair. It is as unfair as excluding women from certain occupations. Surely, this is not a controversial statement? Nonetheless, it seems an employer of a retail outlet in Toa Payoh does not agree. For reasons known only to themselves, the shop does not wish to employ men - only women!

It bothers me to know there is no debate about such hiring practices. I can only imagine the furor over an ad stating 'women need not apply?' Undoubtedly,  umpteen women's rights groups will (rightly) turn the company's hiring policies into a national debate on female rights.

To date, Singapore's authorities have taken a 'laissez-faire' approach towards discrimination in the labor market - more often than not by practically addressing specific cases brought to their attention. So far, the approach has proved sufficient. However, with a more sophisticated labor force and an economy moving higher up the value chain, it is time the authorities consider studying the need for legislation to address specific issues, including age and sex discrimination.
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Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of regional businesses. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com. 

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