Maintaining the social fabric and moving forward: What role can young Singaporeans play in it?
A National Youth Council dialogue on Singapore Social Fabric and National Identity brought up several interesting viewpoints from youths in attendance.
How can young Singaporeans help renew Singapore’s social fabric and what more can be done to deal with the rising cost of living?
Those were some points discussed at a dialogue session held by the National Youth Council on Aug 25 at the NTUC Centre. Attended by 37 youths, the three-hour long session also covered the announcements made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally.
Some youth participants, along with panellists Nabilah Jalal, Rovik Robert and Danial Hakim, shared their takeaways from the dialogue with Youthopia.
Views on the repeal of 377A
While youths at the dialogue welcomed the repeal of Section 377A of the penal code, which made sex between men illegal, they were still cautious because of concerns over conflicting viewpoints.
Some felt more dialogues between the Government and different communities should continue, in order to ensure progress regarding inclusivity happens in society.
One youth participant, Cassandra Ng, shared that she feels religious communities “should not enforce their views” on secular societies.
“Individuals that belong to both the LGBT and religious communities will feel marginalised as they feel ostracised by their religious community,” the 20-year-old student said.
“As part of the LGBT community, I feel that with the announcement of the repeal of Section 377A, Singapore has taken one step forward and two steps back.
“There is no progress on making LGBT community more accepted by society. We are left out during policymaking – for example, we do not enjoy the benefits of housing. Must I wait for 35 years to get a house, or make enough money to buy a private property? Are we inclusive enough?”
But the position of the Singapore Government, which plans to update the constitution to protect the definition of marriage as one between a man and woman, was appreciated by other participants.
Khoo Yi Feng, who works in the community and social services sector, shared that it was something “not unexpected” as it is how Singapore’s social compact is fundamentally built on. “Large majority of society still holds traditional views on how a family unit should be,” the 32-year-old added.
Another participant, Cho Ming Xiu, who also works in the community and social services sector, shared that religious groups are concerned about the cascading effects on the announcement. “Family is a cornerstone of the religion. With the repeal of 377A, it may affect ideas of future generations,” 35-year-old said.
While sentiments towards this issue will continue to be diverse, ultimately, it is the Government that “has power to influence society’s view on the LGBT Community” through its laws and initiatives, said 25-year-old healthcare executive Rustam Shariq Mujtaba, who also pointed out that Section 377A is an archaic law too.
On rising costs of living
Youths voiced that they felt Government policies could do more to assist Singaporeans with the rising costs. They also acknowledged in the dialogue that while the current policies in place do help lower income families, more could be done to relieve the toll of rising prices and potential divisiveness in society.
“This is a pressing issue universally for the old and the young,” shared 18-year-old student Winston Ho. “The rising costs of living is taking a toll on families, especially those from lower income families, and it might create some divisiveness in society.”
Ming Xiu added that the ground sensing is that current policies are not effective enough. The raise in taxes is also compounding problems and, while financial support is handed out, those are short-term measures and “will not effectively help low to middle income families”.
One of the participants was also concerned that the rising cost of living in Singapore may eventually push individuals to migrate.
“Youths today are pragmatic,” 29-year-old Velda Wong shared.
On how Singapore can maintain a strong social fabric
Singapore has embarked on the year-long Forward Singapore exercise to refresh its social compact led by the fourth generation of leaders headed by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong. Key to the exercise, which will include consultations and dialogues with Singaporeans from all walks of life, is how Singapore can refresh its social compact by examining our values and aspirations, and build consensus.
At the dialogue, participants acknowledge that with changing times, the Singapore society’s focus should also change to meet the demand of now. Equally important is for Singaporeans to build up our resilience and learn from the past, and know that any action taken towards resolving differences matters in the long run.
To that, Velda added that it is crucial for Singaporeans to continue to be “sensitive to nuances” and “be accepting of different cultures, especially living in Singapore”.
Rustam added that he wants to see Singaporeans to be present, hopeful, humble, empathetic, resilient, ecological and to hear everyone regardless of their opinions.
For 33-year-old Cheo Pei Rong, it is about acknowledging that there are differences among Singaporeans.
“We may be very enthusiastic and passionate about pursuing a shared vision but other people may not feel the same way. This is because some people struggle with basic needs, while others do not. As such, we need to accept that these divisions are there and act on it to close the gaps,” she shared.
Perhaps it is on Singaporeans to acknowledge that we all have our own duties to be productive, suggested Nabillah. She says that Singaporeans who feel passionate about any issues should take the initiative to do something, rather than waiting for someone to kick start something.
“By doing so, you are actually encouraging others to do the same thing. We all have different gifts and privileges that we can use to contribute to the community and help uplift one another,” she added.
Rovik added: “We must be involved as youth in the shaping of our nation’s future and use our privilege well, especially for those who may not always have a seat at the table.
“We live in a pluralistic society; we have to acknowledge that there are people who are outside of our community groups. Progress in a diverse country requires active maintenance – proactively listening and engaging people across communities, within our own communities and those above like decision makers or those in authority.”