The Party’s Women’s Wing annual conference took place yesterday (Sep 10). Themed #ActionForHer: Growing Our Circles of Care, the conference saw the Party calling for action to support women in their caregiving responsibilities, and inviting all Singaporeans to step forward and be part of the care ecosystem in Singapore.
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, along with Women’s Wing’s Chair Minister Josephine Teo, attended the event and pledged to continue to advance women’s development in Singapore.
In his speech, he recalled how his mother, who was a teacher, managed a teaching load, while raising the family – largely by herself.
Here are some interesting stories of his mum.
His mum was asked to stay home and look after her younger relatives
When she was growing up, DPM Wong’s grandfather asked her to stay home and look after the younger children in the extended family and other babies in the kampong to earn extra income for the family.
Why? He had the view that only boys needed an education.
“But my mother was a feminist even before the feminist movement. So, bless her soul, she decided that she could not stand for such unequal treatment and she created such a fuss that my grandfather had no choice but to relent,” he said.
His mum then studied hard and earned a double promotion, despite being two years behind her peers.
“The biggest irony of it all is that her brothers who were given the chance to study, did not complete primary school. Whereas my mother, who nearly missed out on an education, went on to secondary school, and later became a school teacher,” he added.
“It’s a salutary reminder that women can do things better than men!”
DPM Wong’s mum had to balance both work and family – even before the current familiar situation of women embracing work and family.
“My mum did it all because before she retired, she was literally a superwoman managing a teaching load, raising the family and taking care of the household chores, all without domestic help.”
Knowing that it was a teachable moment for her children, she trained DPM Wong and his brother to assist her in chores.
Showdown with a chief gangster
There was an incident that left an impression on then 10-year-old DPM Wong.
“There was a burglary in our HDB flat and the thieves took all the valuables in our home. We called the police but they weren’t able to go very far with their investigations.”
But his mum wasn’t going to let things slide.
“She called up her brother and got in touch with his childhood friend in the kampung. It so
happened that he was a gangster – not any gangster, he literally is the chief gangster in charge of the entire East Coast area, from Marine Parade to Bedok,” he shared to exclamation from the audience.
She arranged to meet the chief gangster and brought DPM Wong along. What happened next undoubtedly left an indelible mark on him.
“Till today, I remember seeing her talking to this gangster chief like he was one of her students – lecturing him, asking if one of his gang members had committed the crime and demanding justice,” DPM Wong said.
They didn’t find the culprit in the end but it didn’t matter.
“I learnt early in life an important life lesson: women are capable of amazing things,” he said to applause.
More to be done for women
DPM Wong noted that the Party has been a champion for women’s development from the start and while we have made progress over the decades, we should also recognise that the situation is not perfect.
He noted that gaps do exist and how “persistent and insidious” some of the gaps are.
“We can only close these gaps if we get to the heart of the matter – which is to confront the fundamental causes of the disparities that remain with us.”
He cited gender stereotypes as one major challenge.
To that end, he said that Singapore must continue to step up efforts be it through education against stereotypes in school, protection for women against discrimination in the workplace or improving our broader support infrastructure and eco-system for childcare, infant care, as well as senior care.
“Ultimately, we must try to shape more progressive family norms, to encourage more shared parental responsibilities and a more balanced sharing of family caregiving responsibilities too.”
And the Forward Singapore is an important exercise to advance women’s interest.
“Through this exercise, we hope we can come together to imagine the kind of society we want for our children and our grandchildren. A society where men and women can stand as equals; where we recognise the intrinsic value of women in Singapore; and where every citizen is empowered to fulfil their aspirations and dreams,” he said.
He rounded off his speech by urging people to participate actively by giving suggestions and join as partners in co-creating Singapore’s new compact.