Quotable quotes from Ong Ye Kung’s speech at the debate on White Paper on S’pore Women’s Development


In his 26-minute speech at the debate on the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development on Apr 5, 2022, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that at the White Paper’s heart is the “equality to freedom of choice” and even gave some advice to men.

Here are some memorable quotes.

Acknowledging Mr Pritam Singh and his own history

“My grandfather and grandmother had nine sons, I had no aunties, and my father was the second eldest son. They lived in a Kampung in Lorong Chuan, now part of Aljunied GRC,” said Minister Ong, while looking at Mr Singh.

Feeling some dissonance

“From young I felt some dissonance, because in my primary school, there was hardly any differentiation between the girls and boys. If anything, the girls were quite often the better students while the boys were more playful and struggled to keep up. School lessons already included stories like Hua Mulan and Marie Curie. And so from a young age, we had both women and men as role models.” 

On being outnumbered now

“Growing up therefore, my family was mainly men, and women were the outliers.  When I got married, and my wife and I had our own children, the situation changed completely.  Both our children are girls.  I became the outlier.  So today, after my parents’ passing, the people I love most in this world are all women. The dissonance I felt as a kid I slowly developed into a deeper understanding of the struggles and aspirations of women.  I am not sure I totally get it, but I am trying to get it.”

A badly-answered supplementary question

“As a young girl, our elder daughter learnt the concept of dowries and had a shock.  It was over the dinner table, she asked: ‘Why must the groom’s family give the dowry? Why the four pieces of gold (for Teochews), the roast pig (for Cantonese and Hakka)?’

My wife calmly answered: ‘Because the Chinese tradition is that the girl marries out.’

That got her even more upset, our daughter then exclaimed: ‘So it is a transaction – we are sold?’

I tried to make things better by explaining that the money flowed both ways – that in some cultures it is the bride’s side that provides the dowry, in recognition that the husband will incur costs in taking care of the bride.  

It wasn’t a helpful intervention. A very badly answered SQ. We left it as that.”

Of social constructs

“All children, sons and daughters, are born into this world with no bias between women and men.  But through my daughters’ eyes during their formative years, I better understood the lived experience of social expectations and prejudices. 

These are beyond Government policies and legislation.  In fact, policies and legislation and especially those in Singapore are meant to remove discrimination and promote equality. 

Instead we have biases deeply embedded in our social practices and constructs.  They probably had their roots in nomadic bands, where men mainly hunted, and women mainly gathered. The roots probably grew deeper in agrarian tribes, where men ploughed the fields, and the women took care of domestic matters.  

And then the tribes decided to come together to form complex societies.  Then, the key problem statement was: how do we as different tribes live peacefully together and not kill each other?  The answer was to make everyone stakeholders of a stable and peaceful society.”

The driving forces of equality

“We cannot undo all these longstanding anthropological practices and history in one generation. But no matter how entrenched, that past is challenged by the present. I think there are at least three major driving forces. The first is education, and the second technology. They combine in a powerful way to force a rethink of the status quo. 

 Take education for example.  Today, young girls in Singapore grow up in an environment that their grandmothers would not have imagined when they were children. Education has become the great equaliser in most societies. 

With equal opportunities for education and development, women are now able to enter vocations and professions that were historically male-dominated. 

Education as a driving force of equality is turbo-charged by the advancement of technology.  What used to require physical strength can now be automated or performed by machines.”

Embracing the differences

“Many women I know, including my wife, are against gender biasness in society, but they will also fiercely guard the difference between women and men. 

Because they know daughters have a special bond with their parents that is different from the relationship that sons have. A woman, in a room full of men, is often able to articulate a different perspective.  

For mothers, maternal instincts are non-substitutable. It comes from carrying the child for nine months, and manifests in mothers wanting to nurse the child after birth. 

Let me offer another quote by a Hollywood star, Denzel Washington, when paying a tribute to his late mother, he said: ‘A mother is a son’s first true love (when he’s born).  A son…is a mother’s last true love (when she dies).’

Single or married, mothers or women without children – women have special roles to play in their families and society because of these differences between women and men.”

Men, stop mensplaining

“Now let me speak as a man, to fellow men. 

I say: let us all be stakeholders in a fair and equal society.

At the most basic level, let us respect women through our words and actions. Offences against women are clearly wrong, and the vast majority of us agree with that.  Perhaps what is less obvious is the occasional insensitive remark that reflects an unconscious bias or stereotype. 

Understand and see things from a woman’s point of view. Stop mansplaining, using diminutives, or doing things in the presence of women that they feel embarrassed by.”

Keep chivalry alive

“Finally, while we accord women respect, let us take a step further to be chivalrous. I may be old-fashioned, but I personally think there is much virtue in men extending a special courtesy to women. To be honest, I often feel uneasy that just because I am a Minister, people, including my female staff, will attempt to offer to carry my bag or open the door for me. I will always try to stop them and offer to open the door for them instead, often reminding them that ‘etiquette comes before protocol.'” 

Yo, keep the games and jokes tasteful plz

“I want to make a special shout out to our youths, having met many of them during my time as Minister for Education. I say to them, be kind to all your friends. Accord respect and courtesy to one another. Listen to the views of everyone, boys and girls. Keep the games and jokes appropriate and tasteful – not from your point of view, but from theirs. Sexual offences are a rising problem amongst your generation. The boys might be uncomfortable hearing this, but I think it is important you hear this. Never be part of the problem, but be part of the solution. When in doubt, always do the right thing. Watch out for the girls. If it is late at night, offer to walk them to the bus stop, MRT station or even their destinations.”

The Ballad of Mulan

“Members are familiar with the story. A poem was written about her, called the Mulan Ballad 木兰辞.  I thought the last few lines are particularly meaningful. In Chinese, it goes:


Roughly translated it means: When you catch hold of a rabbit, the male rabbit kicks its legs. If you catch hold of a female rabbit, it will close its eyes.  But when they are running side by side, you cannot tell which is male, which is female. 

This was written in 400AD, during the era of Northern Wei. Even in highly patriarchal ancient China, there was recognition that there are inherent differences between men and women. But there are many roles that can be equally performed by both women and men.”

A proud dad

“But if my daughters decide as a life priority to start a family and spend more time as mothers to bring up their children, even at the expense of their career progression, I will be immensely proud of them.  

And if they decide they prefer to be single and use their talents to contribute to society and community, I will also be immensely proud of them.  

But whichever priority they put greater weight on, whatever life course they choose, they should not be pressured to do so. This shall be their choice.”