Singapore women have made tremendous progress in areas spanning education, economic status, and even representation in the Government.
However, more can be done collectively to empower, protect, and uplift women. While our current laws and policies are strong, the Government needs to continually look ahead to understand the aspirations and needs of Singapore women and ensure that laws and policies evolve as necessary.
As such, in September 2020, Minister K Shanmugam announced that a series of public conversations will be organised together with the People and Private sectors.
These conversations will allow us to cultivate a better and more inclusive society by enabling Singaporeans from all walks of life to come together to understand the aspirations of Singaporeans for Singapore women and the mindset changes required to further women’s development here.
Feedback and recommendations from these sessions will be consolidated and submitted to the Government in a form of a White Paper. The White Paper will also serve as a roadmap for the progress of Singapore women.
Join in the conversations and partner with us to create and implement solutions that further progress the lives of Singapore women.
Listen to Minister for Home Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam, share his views on the national review:
Transcript of Minister K Shanmugam’s speech can be found here.
NYC hosted a series of three conversations in support of this national effort.
Conversations on Women’s Development – Schools
A Summary of Issues Raised by Youths (Monday, 21 Dec 2020)
Attended by: Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State in the Ministry for Education and Ministry for Social and Family Development
The first session, which focused on issues in the school environment, was held on 21 December 2020. Here are some key takeaways from the session:
Participants mostly acknowledged there had been progress in efforts to promote and strengthen women’s development in Singapore. However, they saw room for improvement, particularly in areas such as changing mindsets on traditional gender stereotypes and perceptions on women, closing gaps in the legal system, victim-blaming and creating a stronger culture of consent and reducing stigma and discrimination in specific industries due to gender. Participants discussed the important role that education and family play in engendering positive mindsets about women’s development and the need to include both genders in gender discourse.
The top three areas of importance in supporting women’s development as voted by participants were: Culture of Respect for All, Safe Environment in Schools, Home and Work, and Equitable Roles at Home and Society.
Culture of Respect for All
The majority of participants felt that cultivating a culture of respect for all was key to supporting women’s development. The general sentiment was that though there have been improvements in gender equality compared to the past, discrimination against women stemming from traditional gender roles and stereotypes remained prevalent. Participants shared that the common stereotype of a woman’s role as a caregiver bounded them to childcare duties unfairly. Women were also expected to be “superwomen”, and be able to juggle their career and their role as caregivers at home effectively.
Participants shared that gender beliefs and stereotypes were shaped based on what children were taught and exposed to during their formative years. Hence, families have a crucial role in starting these conversations and cultivating healthy mindsets towards gender equality.
Participants also shared that education was crucial in changing mindsets, and schools played an important role in shaping the mindsets and behaviours of the younger generation. Participants suggested that educational materials such as textbooks should convey messages of gender equality and include a more diverse portrayal of both genders in the professional setting.
Some noted that the portrayal of gender roles in media could also affect gender perception in society, especially in one that consumes media so heavily. As such, participants suggested that we should strive for a more diverse and balanced portrayal of both genders in mass media to avoid reinforcing traditional stereotypes. They also shared that the media continually objectifies women overtly and the general public had come to view that as a norm.
Safe Environment at School, Home, and Work
Participants shared that more needed to be done to create a safe environment for both genders in society. Some noted that while some universities have started conducting workshops on respect and consent for their students, many felt such courses would have been more impactful if taught at an earlier age because values are more entrenched and difficult to change in adults. Such lessons should also not be a one-off event and rather a continued effort to reinforce these values further. Some suggested that it might be better to include these topics while discussing sexuality education in schools rather than emphasising abstinence.
Participants felt that there should also be more open discussions in classes and schools involving both genders so men can get some perspective and learn more about women’s struggles. Some even suggested teaching youth about the legal repercussions of behaviours such as voyeurism and sexual harassment to dissuade such actions.
Participants also raised the importance of educating students on approaching friends in need and empowering them to get help if needed. They shared the need to raise awareness and make sure that there are enough safe spaces for people to ask questions and learn more about gender issues, without the fear of being judged.
Equitable Roles at Home and Society
Many participants raised the point that women were unfairly expected to perform specific roles, such as caregiving. As such, certain industries like nursing tend to be dominated by women, while engineering and computing were male-dominated.
While most agreed that schools played an important role in creating learning opportunities for children, some shared that it was also important that children should be able to see both parents being equally involved in their upbringing.
Participants felt that there should be an equal division in caregiving and housework between both parents and domestic duties should not just be seen as the woman’s role.
Conversations on Women’s Development – Home & Community
A Summary of Issues Raised by Youths (Saturday, 9 Jan 2021)
Attended by: Ms Low Yen Ling, Minister of State, Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth
The second dialogue focused on issues in the home and community and was held on 9 January 2021. Here are some key takeaways from the session:
Participants acknowledged that having open discussions on Singapore women’s development was a good start, but called for more minority voices to be included in the conversations. They shared that more could be done to educate the broader youth population in areas such as: creating a culture of respect, consent and boundaries, legislation to recognise caregivers’ work, providing adequate support for vulnerable women groups, providing safe and judgement-free avenues of reporting abuse, and moving away from victim-blaming. Participants raised the need for more empathy, sensitivity and emotional support for victims dealing with issues of harassment and sexual assault. They also discussed how to provide better solutions for non-nuclear family units, such as assistance schemes and additional support for single mothers.
The top 3 issues of concern affecting women at home and in the community as voted by participants were: Gender Stereotypes, Sexual Harassment and Issues Faced by Vulnerable Women Groups.
The majority of participants were concerned that gender stereotypes in our society could create an environment where negative behaviours towards women were normalised and met with acceptance. Participants advocated for breaking outdated gender stereotypes to ensure a better future for men and women. Some felt that men could use their “male privilege” to empower women, such as by calling out harmful “locker room talk” and educating other men.
Many shared that the mindset of the community needed to move away from the stereotype of women as home-makers and de facto caregivers. They suggested utilising nation-wide education campaigns to undo generations of deeply ingrained gender stereotypes in the decades to come. Many would also like to see an improvement in the education system on what women’s empowerment constitutes. They felt there should be a conscious effort to ensure students understand policies that empower women are in place to ultimately bring about equality between men and women.
Another key point brought up was to increase support for stay-at-home mothers. Participants cited that in cases of domestic abuse, stay-at-home mothers may be dependent on their spouses, and find themselves trapped without the financial security to leave their situations.
Participants also noted that despite the increased number of women in the workforce, women were still expected to take on the role of the primary caregiver and household organiser. Many shared that domestic work was often unrecognised and undervalued and women who took time off for caregiving responsibilities experienced discrimination in the workplace. Many felt that more education was needed to raise awareness of the issues faced by mothers/single mothers and to recognise the contribution of men who stayed home to take on caregiving roles.
A number of suggestions raised by participants include legislating caregivers’ income to recognise the value of their work in a tangible way, increasing paternity care leave and allowing for shared family care leave.
Sexual harassment was one of the top issues of concern for many participants as they felt it fundamentally violated the safety, security and self-actualization of individuals, resulting in an irreversible impact on the victims’ physical and mental health, and their ability to thrive. The participants felt strongly for equal sentencing, regardless of gender, on sexual harassment crimes including domestic violence. Many shared that penalities against sexual violence should not be seen only as penalising an offense but rather the violation of fundamental values.
A number of participants shared that victims of sexual harassment and abuse were unaware of the available resources to seek help from as schools and homes did not adequately prepare them on how to handle such situations.
Many shared about the reluctance to report cases of sexual abuse due to the perception that the criminal justice system was unable to handle such situations sensitively. Participants also felt that Singapore’s criminal justice system needed to be more empathetic towards sexual assault victims when cases were reported. They largely agreed on the importance of providing training on how to address trauma to personnel working with sexual abuse cases.
Participants shared that several laws and policies in place to protect women against sexual harassment required evidence, which could be difficult for the victim to provide, and called for alternative measures to protect women.
Many participants shared that more discussion and education was needed around respecting boundaries and the need to clearly define consent. Further education on how to respond in situations of sexual harassment was also needed.
Issues Faced by Vulnerable Women Groups:
Several participants acknowledged that women had progressed through the years, but said it was important to recognise that progress was uneven for some groups, e.g. LGBTQ and other vulnerable groups of women.
Participants raised the importance of considering intersectionality when discussing gender issues as discrimination and inequality stemmed from many sources such as race, class, gender identity and religion. Participants also commented that sexual harassment incidents tended to involve minority women more, and it was important to look into issues faced by minority women.
Many participants also suggested addressing the lack of assistance for single mothers. They shared that in the event of divorce, mothers were not adequately compensated or well protected, and commented that the maintenance amount paid by the father rarely takes into account the unpaid emotional labour of raising the child and looking after the family. Many felt more financial support should be given to divorced women as they were typically the sole caregiver for young children as well as elderly parents post-divorce. They also called for companies to allow for flexible work arrangements such as working from home.
A number of participants discussed increasing accessibility and affordability for women’s mental healthcare so that timely and accurate diagnoses to mental health conditions could be sought. This could prevent women’s mental health issues from being dismissed as being “emotional beings” by the general public.
Participants shared the need for clearer shelter options for women in abusive homes with safety in place for their children. They felt that institutions and the government should build a stronger ecosystem of support for people facing family violence as a longer-term measure.
Conversations on Women’s Development – Workplaces
A Summary of Issues Raised by Youths (Saturday, 6 Feb 2021)
Attended by: Ms Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Manpower
The final session, the third in the series, focused on issues in workplaces. The dialogue was held on 6 February 2021 and these are some of the key takeaways from the session:
Participants said that more open discussions on Singapore women’s development and empowerment were needed and hoped to see change led by the Government.
The top three issues of concern affecting women in workplaces as voted by participants were: Work-Life Harmony (22.4%), Workplace Harassment (21.6%) and Lack of Female Leaders/Senior Management Positions (18.1%).
Youths shared that more could be done to educate the public on workplace harassment and appropriate workplace behaviours to promote healthy perceptions of gender roles. They also asked for shared paternity leave, safer avenues to report workplace harassment, and a larger female representation in senior positions.
Participants were concerned about the persistence of traditional gender roles in society. They shared that society still largely saw women as taking on caregiving responsibilities. They felt that as a result, some companies may not view women who juggle career and motherhood as candidates for promotion, resulting in some females having to choose between focusing on their careers and raising children.
Many participants called for gender equality in caregiving responsibilities and work opportunities. Some suggested allowing both parents to share the allocated childcare leave, as well as more support for working parents, such as providing childcare facilities at workplaces.
Participant also raised the need to recognise the monetary value of caregiving, and compensate caregivers accordingly.
Workplace harassment was second in the list of top concerns. Participants felt that many cases of harassment remained unreported due to the lack of awareness about what constituted harassment at work. They also said that most victims were unaware of the help and resources available.
While participants acknowledged that there were existing mechanisms – such as The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment (TAFEP) – in place to prevent workplace harassment, they were guidelines that companies were not bound to follow. As such, participants felt that the onus to report workplace harassment then fell on the victims, who might not have the emotional strength or legal knowledge to pursue the cases. Some suggested the possibility of passing these guidelines through legislation so that companies were legally bound to follow them.
Participants said that many harassment cases remain unreported because victims fear being victim-blamed. Participants suggested that companies implemented workplace training to better educate and empower women to report inappropriate behaviour at work. Some also shared the importance of bystander intervention as the onus should not solely be on the victim to report harassment cases. A small number of participants also shared the need to protect minority women at workplaces as they were observed to face higher incidences of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Lack of Female Leaders/Senior Management Positions:
While participants acknowledged that there had been progress for gender equality between men and women in Singapore, they said that senior leadership positions in most organisations were still largely male-dominated.
Participants shared that the lack of female representation in senior management could create a vicious cycle where young women lacked female role models to aspire towards. Some also believed that female leaders better understood the issues and challenges faced by female employees, thereby enabling more positive changes to be made from the top.
Participants suggested providing young women with more leadership and talent development opportunities to train them for senior leadership positions.
In the lead up to the series of national dialogues that began in Oct 2020, NYC conducted a survey on 1,000 Singaporeans to understand their sentiments on Women’s Development-related issues. Here’s what we found out:
Home and Community:
Keen to find out more about the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development, and the upcoming white paper? Here are some useful links to check out:
Keen to find out more about the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development, and the upcoming white paper? Here are some useful links to check out:
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