White Paper on Women’s Development advances the work the PAP govt started decades ago: Masagos

The White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development is the latest milestone and advances the work the PAP government started decades ago, said Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli in a Facebook post yesterday (Mar 28, 2022).

The White Paper, with 25 action plans in five key areas, was released and presented to Parliament yesterday. All the action plans will be implemented over 10 years in close partnership with the community and a mid-point review will be conducted in 2027.

“I am deeply encouraged that our future generations will continue to contribute and grow in a fairer and more inclusive society where men and women partner each other as equals, and both can pursue their aspirations freely and to the fullest,” Minister Masagos wrote.

He also highlighted the fact that the White Paper is a result of insights gathered from nearly 6,000 Singaporeans in 160 conversations from the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development.

How long has it been in the making?

From the very start, when the Party was formed actually.

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 the Party won with a landslide victory and Singapore saw five women elected, 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.

Source: White Paper on Women’s Development
Source: White Paper on Women’s Development

What are the 25 actions?

According to the White Paper, these action plans reflect the whole-of-society effort required to advance
Singapore women’s development. They aim to support the diverse aspirations of and challenges
faced by Singapore women at different life-stages, centring around our shared values of fairness, equality, respect and solidarity.

In short, these will move Singapore toward a fairer and more inclusive society.

Area 1: Equal opportunities in the workplace

Action 1: Introduce new workplace fairness legislation
Action 2: Entrench flexible work arrangements as a workplace norm
Action 3: Develop career mentorship, networking opportunities and training programmes for women at work and re-entering the workforce
Action 4: Encourage greater utilisation of parental leave entitlements
Action 5: Revised Singapore Exchange Listing Rules and Practice Guidance to the Code of Corporate Governance to support greater board diversity, including gender diversity
Action 6: Increase women’s representation on boards with efforts led by the Council for Board Diversity

Area 2: Recognition and support for caregivers

Action 7: Ease caregivers’ load
Action 8: Reduce caregivers’ financial strain and encourage care in the community
Action 9: Enhance support for women and children
Action 10: Ramp up awareness of caregiver support initiatives and provide community support
Action 11: Enhance support for caregivers of people with disabilities and children with developmental needs

Area 3: Protection against violence and harm

Action 12: Revised sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences
Action 13: Enhance protection for victim-survivors of family violence
Action 14: Raise awareness and accessibility of resources for victims of online harms
Action 15: Strengthen support and awareness of resources to address workplace harassment
Action 16: Implement a national framework to promote safe sport
Action 17: Promote values of respect and safety through education

Area 4: Other support measures for women

Action 18: Enhance support for single parents
Action 19: Enhance support for divorcing or divorced women
Action 20: Enhance support for low-income families with children
Action 21: Provide women the choice to undergo Elective Egg Freezing

Area 5: Mindset shifts

Action 22: Updated the Women’s Charter to better reflect women’s equal status as men in marriage
Action 23: Address mental models arising from societal stereotypes
Action 24: Develop gender-responsive standards under the Singapore Standardisation Programme
Action 25: Dedicate a public garden to honour and celebrate pioneering spirit of Singapore women

What are the key actions?

After years of deliberation and dialogue, the Elective Egg Freezing (EEF) is here. Women aged 21 to 35 years old, regardless of marital status, will soon be allowed to free their eggs.

Of course, this is not without safeguards to ensure that they make an informed choice. For instance, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling told The Straits Times that before the procedure, women will be counselled to help them understand the invasive nature of the procedure, its limitations such as the low success rates (2 to 12 per cent, according to medical research) of the procedure leading to a baby being born, and the risk of having babies at an older age.

Also, to be consistent with upholding parenthood within marriage and the existing Assisted Reproduction regulatory framework, only legally married couples can use their frozen eggs for procreation.

Ms Sun wrote on Facebook yesterday: “EEF will be implemented with sufficient safeguards from early 2023. We hope this will support and encourage more Singaporeans to pursue their marriage and parenthood aspirations, particularly for women who are unable to find a partner when they are younger, but who wish to have the chance of conceiving and becoming a parent after marriage later in life.”

Everyone should play a part

Minister Masagos added that a fairer and more inclusive society cannot be achieved just by legislation and policies.

“Everyone should play our part, including us men. These mean speaking out and standing up against inappropriate behaviour towards women, sharing domestic duties at home, and encouraging our children to pursue careers based on their interests and strengths and not be constrained by gender stereotypes.”

Indeed, while the White Paper is a significant milestone, it takes a whole-of-society effort, which includes mindset shifts and actions – as highlighted by Minister Masagos – for progress to shine through.

It’s worth remembering this: as long as society progresses, so must our attitude toward female empowerment and our recognition of women’s contributions and status in our society.

You can read the White Paper here.