Saturday, March 03, 2007

Made in Singapore

When the issues of procreation comes up in Singapore, maids and work-life balance are often mentioned in the same breadth. Many see these two as prerequisites for bearing children, not love nor a desire to share with each other the joys of an offspring. Carrying on the family lineage must be the last thing on most young Singaporean couple's mind nowadays. It is common to see them getting a public-housing apartment and moving away from the parents. With the absence of parental nagging, the impetus to 'go multiply' for the sake of the family name will be absent.

Don't get me wrong. I am making no judgement either way about a couple setting up house without the parents, nor even about getting that public housing apartment on marriage. Most young couples do that. I was one of them in my time, and our parents do not stay with us although we have room. The story is a long but amicable one.

Often a couple thinks that if they are to bring anyone into the world, they must be ready to provide the best for that youngling. So many couples work and strive to climb that corporate ladder to this end, or so they pretend that that is why they are doing so. But they forget that biology is not on their side, at least not on the women's side. Many think that the women can still give birth way past thirty. Yes, you can, but many never factor in issues of post-natal problems after the first child, which may put a stop to the possibility of conceiving a second time, much less a third time. Furthermore, there are the issues of providing care for that first child that may wear out the couple, so much so that they will probably have second thoughts about a second child, which leads me on to the issue of maids and work-life balance.

Many women argue that the discrimination, real or imagined, that they face at work when they get pregnant (or hear about other women's experience) is a total put-off. The problem is real and often difficult to resolve. The government is willing to throw money at the problem, to make the financial loss more bearable for the employer. But lets be frank - pregnancy of a female staff is never a good thing for business. We are not talking about losing an employee's time, but also experience and expertise in her work. It is even more difficult to replace staff the higher up they are. If it were possible, what reason would the pregnant women keep her position, except the law and some dispute resolution parties? Really, we have dug ourselves into a hole by being so successful with our educational system and the largely equitable opportunities thereafter. I am not sure that aggressive economic growth is consistent with biological plenty.

Well, I have no solution to offer except that something has to give. That is the hard choice that we are faced with in Singapore today. We have seen that money, on its own, cannot solve this problem.

Now, about the maid...

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