Troublesome Women and the Nanny State: Drawing Boundaries and Legislating Bifurcated Belonging in Patriarchal Singapore
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Issue 36, September 2014
Posted: 19 Mar 2015
Date Written: September 1, 2014
As a patriarchal state, government policies, societal norms and government regulations in Singapore mirror that normative ideal. Yet, as a sovereign nation-state, Singapore also seeks to be a global city. Like many open cities, Singapore is experiencing a rise in international marriages, a disconcerting declining birth rate, and the challenges of migration, including the immigration of foreign transient workers and professionals as well as the growth of a significant overseas Singaporean community.
Consequently, the citizenship regime in Singapore has to adapt in order to strategically bolster social and public policy as well as economic development. The imperative for Singapore to be intrinsically global (in terms of its people thinking and operating beyond Singapore’s borders) and outwardly global (so that Singapore remains attractive to talented foreigners) will generate a new set of political, socio-economic and cultural dynamics to challenge the status quo. This paper examines the regime governing immigration and citizenship in light of the demographic realities and changes.
The essay argues that the law and policy changes have been motivated by pragmatic considerations of demography, economics, and political governance. The essay contends that even with a more liberal attitude towards core issues such as citizenship, ethnic identities, and gender equality, there is the strong undercurrent of ensuring that the statist imperatives vis-à-vis the family, citizenship and foreign labor will seek to buttress the continued institutional influence, if not control, by the state over how Singapore society defines itself in key facets of life. In particular, there is a bifurcated regime resulting in differentiated rights of women living in Singapore, reflecting the state’s ideological drivers on family, citizenship, ethnic identities. The intent is also to pre-empt their becoming a site for contestation over rights, privileges and belonging in a city-state that wants to be a nation-state and a global city.
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