The following is the oral statement made by Jolene Tan, representative of the Singapore coalition of 13 NGOs, who spoke on behalf of the coalition, migrant workers’ rights groups HOME and TWC2, and Centre for Domestic Employees, to the CEDAW Committee on 23 October 2017.
Thank you Madam Chair. I am part of the women’s NGO coalition.
1. Violence against women
Sexual violence of all kinds is common and under-reported. Few employers have policies on workplace sexual harassment as they are not legally obliged to do so. Women assaulted by supervisors often choose between their livelihoods and their safety. Moreover, marital immunity applies to rape, including rape of a minor, despite statements by Singapore to the UPR in 2016. Both the public and authorities lack awareness on consent and the realities of gender-based violence. Recently, in acquitting a man of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old, the judge criticised the victim for taking several months to speak up about her assault. The domestic violence regime does not cover non-married intimate partners.
2. Migrant wives of citizens
Despite the Committee’s last Concluding Observations, these women face unclear immigration rules discriminating based on income, HIV status and other factors. No clear path to stable residence is offered, even for mothers with citizen children. They face discrimination in legal assistance, healthcare, public housing and permission to work. One pregnant woman lived on a lorry until social media pressure secured her help; many more suffer without attention.
3. Muslim family law
Muslim inheritance law creates unfair outcomes disadvantaging women. We urge that Muslims should have a choice between Muslim and civil law in distributing their estates. The State should seek to end polygamy while protecting women already in such marriages. Muslim women should not need consent of a male relative to get married.
4. Employment discrimination
Employers can discriminate based on sex, gender, marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity without legal consequence. We see discrimination based on pregnancy and motherhood, with one woman returning from maternity leave to find a letter of termination on her desk. Muslim women who wear a headscarf are barred from some jobs, including in public institutions.
5. Migrant domestic workers
They face systemic exploitation and abuse. Excluded from labour law, they are not entitled to paid public holidays, sick leave, annual leave and limits to working hours. Reports of workers being locked up, with their mobile phones confiscated, are common. Though the law calls for a weekly day off, most do not enjoy it as employers are permitted to compensate them instead.
Because the government does not allow domestic workers to switch employers freely, they are virtual slaves in their employers’ homes. If they try to assert their rights, they risk repatriation. The state should do more to educate workers about their rights and support them in asserting them.
To combat salary non-payment, the state should make electronic payments compulsory and facilitate the opening of bank accounts for workers.
The state should better regulate and enforce against recruiter malpractice – including efforts to address issues in sender countries. Workers often pay 6-8 months of wages to recruiters. The state does not act on complaints against this, despite laws placing limits on agent fees. If fees are paid for training, the state should ensure it is provided and certified.
The government forces workers who leave their employer’s homes and seek help at NGOs to report to them. The worker is compelled to report abuse and to remain to assist in lengthy investigations against her will.
An anti human trafficking law has been passed, but key indicators and definitions of trafficking are poorly-defined or non-existent. The rights of victims are limited and not enshrined in law.