As Singapore progresses, so has the status of women in our society

Women’s development is a key Party agenda

For far too long, society has cast women as the supporting, domesticated figure while men take centre-stage. But we must ask ourselves this: does such a mentality still hold true in the 21st century.  The answer is no. 

That is why our Party has always treated everyone across all segments of society equally, without fear or favour.

One of our key emphases is women’s development.  

Before we had the Women’s Wing, there was a PAP Women’s League. Formed in 1956 by Comrade Chan Choy Siong, a pioneering woman well ahead of her time, the Women’s League was instrumental in the enactment of the Women’s Charter in 1961. 

The formation of the PAP Women’s League in the 1950s also sent a strong message that the PAP was committed to a policy of gender equality.

In the 1959 election, where our Party won with a landslide victory, Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s wife — the late Mdm Kwa Geok Choo — campaigned for the Party with a short radio broadcast. She later said that PAP was the only party then to have paid attention to women’s rights.

In 1975, our Founding Prime Minister famously said that societies which do not educate and realise potential of women are worse off. He laid the foundations of forward-looking policies such as having childcare centres near workplaces so that women could work and achieve their potential.

Progress Over Time

Over the years, we have made tremendous progress in women’s development. 

According to the Ministry of Manpower, Singapore has seen a significant increase in the labour force participation rate for women,  as well as in their total full-time employment rate and median gross monthly income, over the past decade. 

Flexible working arrangements are also much more commonly practised.  This is much needed to help women balance their career and family responsibilities. 

More men are bearing their share of family responsibilities, including child-minding and doing household chores. Conversely, women’s participation on the boards of the top 100 listed companies increased from 7.5 per cent in 2013 to 17.6 per cent in 2020. 

We have also seen an increase in female representation in Parliament. There are 28 women out of 95 seats, almost 30 per cent. It’s higher than the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s world average of 24.5 per cent.

Our women as inspiring figures

Beyond these numbers, are examples of successful women who are Singapore’s proud daughters.  

We should look no further for inspiration than Mdm President Halimah Yacob. Before she became the first female President in our nation’s history, she was the first Malay woman to be elected into Parliament in 2001; she became the first female Speaker in Singapore in 2013; she was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014; she was part of our Party’s Central Executive Committee in 2015.

There are others too: Paralympian champion and Nominated Member of Parliament Yip Pin Xiu, East Asia’s first female ambassador the United States Chan Heng Chee, swim queen Joscelin Yeo, well-respected doctor and champion of social causes Dr. Kanwaljit Soin, former Under-Secretary-General of UN Dr. Noelene Heyzer, Comrade Gan Siow Huang who was the first female brigadier general in the SAF, just to name a few.

What we have achieved so far has enabled generations of women to rise up and assume inspirational roles that both boys and girls can look up to.

A work in progress

In a speech last year, Home Affair Minister K Shanmugam said that despite all the progress we made, our fight for women’s rights remains a work-in-progress.

He added: “Every boy and girl must grow up imbibing the value of gender equality. They need to be taught from a very early age that boys and girls are to be treated equally, and very importantly, with respect. It has to be a deep mindset change.”

Gender equality is going to take a lot of effort, but I believe we can do it. It is going to require a change in our cultural value system.”

It is with this mentality that our Party started the initiative — #ActionForHer — calling for Singaporeans to support and take action for our women.

In addition, the Women’s and Youth’s wings submitted a paper on improving women’s development to the government this year and will culminate in a White Paper to be presented in Parliament next year.

Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo, who chairs the Women’s Wing, told the media and summed it up perfectly: “There is significant progress made by women all around. But we are very conscious, especially through our ground interactions and our engagements with women from all walks of life, that there are areas for improvement.”

As long as society progresses, so must our attitude toward female empowerment and our recognition of women’s contributions and status in our society.

Cover photo credit: PAP