Delivered in Parliament on 3 August 2021
Madam Deputy Speaker
We have come to the end of a debate today on a topic that touches on so many aspects of our lives individually, and also us as a society. The amount of feeling and the long number of speakers are indicative of how important this topic is.
As to the amendments that were proposed, The Workers’ Party does not object to the amendments, and looks forward to scrutinising the action plans to be proposed. We hope to see concrete steps taken to effect change, whether through legislative amendments or policy overhaul.
Be that as it may, I would again reiterate that when we decided to bring this Private Members’ Motion as a party, my colleagues and I felt strongly about how the issues we raised affect both themselves and also the women (and men) in their lives.
Mr Leon Perera spoke about the three women in his life: his mother, his wife and his daughter; and how he wants to see a world where women were no longer boxed into long-held stereotypes. He shared how men and employers have key roles to play in abolishing sexist attitudes; and how we can accelerate progress by having anti-discrimination legislation while working together to teach the principles of gender equality to our children.
I thanks Minister of State Sun Xueling and Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzan for giving an update on government policies supporting women in various areas.
My Sengkang GRC colleague Mr Louis Chua shared why it is important that our care-related policies do not ironically perpetuate stereotypes and reinforce notions on gender roles. Both men and women must not be forced to make the false choice of choosing between work or family, and we need to ensure adequate support is granted to our caregivers. He also mentioned the important role of fathers in caring for their children — all the while leading by example as told by the number of times his little two year old featured in our Zoom calls while he was on papa duty.
Mr Vikram Nair recounted what participants had shared at a dialogue session he attended, including their experiences of facing discrimination at the workplace during pregnancy or difficulties in re-entering the workforce after devoting several years to caregiving.
Ms Raeesah Khan spoke about Sexual Violence and survivor care. She noted that we need to ensure that survivors are given adequate support, to ensure that they are able to address the trauma they faced. She also touched on three pressing issues in her community: female genital cutting, polygamy and the hijab.
Dr Shahira Abdullah called for a whole of society and community mindset shift, including for boys and their caregivers. She said that women should be the allies of each other and act in solidarity with women from marginalised groups.
I thank Ms Yeo Wan Ling for her speech on the contributions of women in the labour movement and Ms Tin Pei Ling for reminding us of the Aspirations of Women Motion in 2017, and for supporting the amended
motion. Mr Zhulkarnian Abdulrahim mentioned the important role of men and fathers in this conversation, and Ms Cheng Li Hui for her views on egg freezing and fertility support.
Mr Gerald Giam in his speech called for more openness in our immigration and visa policies for foreign spouses of Singapore citizens to strengthen the Singapore Core, for more support to be extended to single parents, and for policies to promote flexible work arrangements, all of which benefit both men and women.
Ms Sylvia Lim focused on the challenge facing political parties in Singapore in finding sufficient numbers of able and willing women to step up to being parliamentary candidates and political leaders. She noted that while Singapore had made progress, greater success was more likely if the social norms supported gender-equal choices. She was cautiously optimistic that the element of political competition would pressure political parties to field more able women, in order to gain support from a more demanding electorate.
Mr Jamus Lim shared how gender equality and female empowerment can be a powerful force for economic progress. He has raised how our female labour force participation rate has actually trended down over the past five years, and the male participation rate has consistently outstripped that of women. Moreover, the most lucrative and fastest growing sectors remain male-dominated, and reduced participation could be symptomatic of the difficulty that women face in breaking into such jobs. To make matters worse, the gender pay gap in Singapore remains substantial. He also proposed various measures to support women and working mothers, and to address the gender pay gap.
These are just the main topics relating to the barriers to gender equality, and there are many more which I have received in the form of comments and emails. These range from the concerns raised about fertility challenges that women face, and women’s health in the form of the chronic management of common conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome and its associated co-morbidities.
To summarise, it is good to hear that across the aisle, we are in general agreement that gender equality has to be pushed to the forefront of national discourse.
And since it is still Olympic season, it cannot escape our attention that changes are also sweeping through sports as well. It is notable that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics saw attention being given to the outfits of female Olympians, and many commented positively on the choice of the German gymnastics women’s team and Norwegian beach volleyball women’s team to wear attire that they felt most comfortable with. It is also heartening to note that female top athletes such as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles are the ones who are leading the way in raising issues relating to mental health.
While it is important to make our policy positions and stand clear, we must take tangible action to effect change. This is why we have brought up the various different proposals that we have in our 2020 manifesto. To make a difference not only for women, but society as a whole. We have to enact real changes in our legislation and government policies to address discrimination directly. This is clearly not a silver bullet, but an important next step to send a signal, to set the tone for the foundational
principle of gender equality that we should put at the forefront of all our policies and laws.
Madam Deputy Speaker, if I may, in Chinese.
副议长女士，我再次重声，给予性别平等待遇，应该是社会的一个基本保障。当然，寻求性别之间的平权，有很多面相。包括在政策 上做出调整，打破一些对女性不公的刻板映像，让女性争取更多具有领导地位的机会，譬如进入国会、内阁和企业界的董事部；提出鼓励雇主推动弹性工作条件的措施，以拉近性别之间的收入差距、尊重和体谅员工在照顾家人孩子方面的责任；延伸性别教育，让更多人提升对辨识和防止性骚扰和侵犯的敏感度，也给容易受到性骚扰和侵犯的小孩和较为弱势的人，得到多一层保护。国家也应 该提供更多举报性骚扰和侵犯的管道。在立法方面，国家也可以推动反歧视法，提升公民对平权的意识、迈向在职场和其他场合上一视同仁，努力往性别平等和公平待遇的方向前进。争取性别平权和反歧视不但是女性议题。它是全民议题，关系到我们每一个人。作为公民，这是我们对彼此应当负起地基本责任。
I started this debate by speaking about my maternal grandmother. She would be so happy to see how little girls today do not have to fight for a right to get themselves educated, and no longer need to hide books to read surreptitiously. But she would be first to say that we must not rest on our laurels and carry on working towards a world of gender equality.
And now, I would also like to close with a big note of thanks to my father. He was born just after the war, the last of 10 children in an extremely
traditional family who viewed boys as far superior to girls. After my sister and I were born, my mother told me that she felt a lot of pressure to try for a third child, in the hope that they would have a boy. When she brought this up with my father, his answer was short and sharp: what’s wrong with my daughters?
I am incredibly grateful that my father has lived his whole life by these words, believing and supporting his daughters with his heart and soul to live our lives in accordance with our own choices — whether or not he agreed with us! — and I know that I would not be here without this commitment he has given us. I also do not think that he — as a lifelong workaholic at the workplace — would have expected himself to become so involved in the care and nurturing of his beloved grandsons in his 70s, which has been critical in supporting me in my own journey here today. I can only hope that many more of us show their wives, mothers and daughters the same belief and love that I experienced as we move towards greater gender equality.
Madam Deputy Speaker, gender equality is not a partisan issue. It is not even just a women’s issue. It is a men’s issue. It is a societal issue. We are in this together. I hope our parliamentary colleagues will use their supermajority to address these issues, especially since our honourable colleagues have, by their own admission, said they raised similar issues repeatedly. It is time for Singapore to take the next step.