This Chinese New Year was a strange one for me.
Everyday as I flipped through the newspapers, I get more and more confused.
It’s the Year of the Rabbit, and our PM urged Singaporeans to have more babies alongside wishing us a happy new year. I get the message. I am one of the many whom my nation will teasingly say that I do not fulfill my “national service” to bring up the country’s fertility rates. I read the low statistics of 1.16 fertility rate, and my intellectual rationale kicks in. Trust me, I get the message. The severity that this has on our social-economical equilibrium, and the threat it brings to our nation’s existence.
What I don’t get: why is everyone flogging this issue as if it is an intellectual one?
“It could have been because of the Year of the Tiger, or perhaps the economic uncertainties the year before, in 2009. Whatever the reasons, I hope more couples will start or add to their families in the Year of the Rabbit. Chinese New Year is the time for families to come together in celebration, and more babies can only mean more joy in the years to come,” said the Prime Minister as he wished all Singaporeans a very happy Year of the Rabbit. (Source: TODAY, Feb 02, 2011)
I understand that our leaders are trying their best to cajole the people into a very real societal challenge. However, I must confess that I find it disturbing that my decision to start a family (or not) is thought to be pinned upon a Chinese horoscope. Or, rising costs of living for that matter, as CNN reports it. Or, because of my tiertiary education, or my selfish needs of maintaining a “freedom” lifestyle, as our government’s survey results have released.
Every time the news outlets report about the nation’s fertility problem, and we are urged to have more babies, I’m made to feel very indignant.
Until I read Venessa Lee’s article in the weekend TODAY. She found the right angle to view the challenge at hand. She probably had given many of us, non-nation-serving Singaporean women a voice. The right voice.
I find it puzzling that for years and years, we are flogged this issue in our faces, blamed for not wanting family and attributed as selfish, offered cash bonuses and incentives accordingly to our fertility contribution. How was all these going to address a fundamentally EMOTIONAL and PERSONAL decision?
We do not have to look too deep into our intellect to be able to relate to the human stories of the challenge. Just tap into the pop culture available. E News anchor Giuliana and Bill Rancic share openly about their desire to have a family, and their arduous journey to do so. What started as a reality show episode became a widely followed topic for many couples, and eventually the Season 2 curtain raiser. Why does their story have such a draw? Because it’s a human one.
I feel indignant because nobody seems to care about the human stories behind the fertility issue. Why are we so obsessed about the issue, and not willing to find the right solutions for it? Even if we are a nation of pragmatic people, our leaders ought to understand that this involves people, lives and many many couple’s arduous journeys.
I had tried to share this perspective to some people who are able to make the difference. To that point, their perspective was, “Oh our job is not to listen. That’s another department’s job.” End of discussion.
*dramatic pause* (I still cannot comprehend that answer, by the way. Flabbergasted.)
I am right smack in the target group who have contributed to the fertility problem by not having children (yet). So are many of my girlfriends. Ever since my indignant fury on the topic has been provoked, I have been reaching out to my friends and openly discussing what was – and still very much is – a taboo topic. We talked as woman to woman, wife to wife, and we talked with our maternity instincts intact. Yes, many of us are successful career women and happily married but we are not as selfish as reports make us out to be. Every single of us who have delayed our child-bearing decisions have our personal real-life challenges to deal with. These real-life challenges are not as simplified as “rising costs of living” or a “personal lifestyle choice”. These real-life challenges involved real-life families, loved ones, and problems that only we are left to deal with.
I wonder who has heard these stories?
Or more accurately, who has cared to ask the right questions?
My line of work involves communicating to the audience with the specific messages designed to resonate. Sometimes this means bringing societal taboo out in the open to be discussed and to be resolved, but in a relatable way. I have seen many corporate companies do this well and with huge success. Often it begins with listening. Listening to the audience, understanding them and then asking the right questions.
So, thank you Venessa Lee for writing your article and bringing out the success that Australia enjoys. Thank you for showing that the baby bonus is really not the point nor the solution, but there are other areas of needs that should be looked into.
I only hope this time, it will be heard.