The Ministry of Social and Family Development has declared 2021 the Year of Celebrating SG Women. In light of this nationwide review on women’s issues to bring about mindset change in cultural value systems to achieve gender equality, the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO) has been one of the organisations leading the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development to identify issues concerning women in Singapore and gather recommendations accordingly.
Since October 2020, SCWO has organised four conversation sessions with its member organisations and members of the public to acquire insights on gender equality in Singapore. SCWO has since compiled a report on gender equality in Singapore via the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development. In addition to addressing the issues women and girls in Singapore face across their different life and career stages, this report also aims to provide recommendations to better support women as Singapore continues to work towards gender equality.
The report is divided into five sections, each reviewing a sector of achieving gender equity in Singapore. Post introducing SCWO and its engagement platform and resources, as well as the research approach relevant to the report’s craft and compilation, namely conversation sessions with our member organisations, Part I presents the views and recommendations of its member organisations on the development of women in Singapore in the four domains: home, schools, workplaces, and the community. Part II highlights long-term and short-term initiatives of SCWO and its member organisations to improve the status of women in Singapore in all fields. Part III includes a specific account of BoardAgender – an initiative dedicated to promoting gender representation in work sectors through helping more Singaporean women advance into senior- leadership roles and boardrooms – and its submission to Panel for Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development as a specific initiative to SCWO. Part IV details SCWO’s specific proposal to celebrate the Year of Celebrating SG Women. The proposal details a recommendation to name and/or re-name certain public spheres and locations in Singapore, after women who have been inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame (SWHF). Part V concludes the report.
SCWO engaged with over 300 participants from more than 60 organisations across various sectors and industries over the four conversation sessions. Member Organisations provided insights and feedback as well as recommendations regarding the four separate issues concerning women in Singapore at home, schools, workplaces, and the broader Singaporean community; ingrained societal values on gender norms; unequal opportunities; protection and safety of women; and financial insecurity. Views and specific arguments are supported by research and/or data collected over time that evidence the obstacles young girls and women have had to endure. Beyond that, SCWO and its member organisations provided specific recommendations, associated with the mentioned challenges, for the government. These recommendations vary in degree, from public policy to legislative amendments, with hope to ease and lift particular barriers to the advancement of the female status in the realms of personal space, educational settings, workplace communities and the socio-cultural atmosphere in Singapore.
Through conversation sessions and immense research, SCWO was able to identify the concerns surrounding gender equity in Singapore. In terms of ingrained social and cultural values, the underlying problem lies in what Singaporean society perceives of men and women. Singapore’s patriarchal society translates into all aspects of daily life, from gendered expectations to inherent roles. Gender equality arguably cannot operate on a fundamentally flawed foundation – that is, the entrenched societal values on gender roles and norms in Singapore. Namely, young girls and women are grilled with the notion that their duties belong at home that include basic household chores, caregiving for infants and elders, etc. This occurs within the community, at schools and at home, which has filtered into the work place too. There is a significant lack of confidence in a woman’s ability to perform in professional spaces due to her perceived abilities in those settings, and that she would be treated as valuable only when her duties surround servicing the community or at home, as opposed to in workplaces. As such, SCWO and its member organisations have derived that educating young minds, through both academics and parenting, is a start to generating social change.
Another significant issue is the lack of equal opportunities for women in Singapore. This is due to the disproportionate levels of caregiving-related responsibilities that women are expected to maintain, and this issue starts from within the educational sector – there is a sheer unequal representation of what young girls and boys are working towards in life. The fact that women are often indirectly pressured into choosing their families or their careers ultimately limits their potential in the society. One of the most universal problems with gender equality is the protection and safety of women. In Singapore, specifically, cases of voyeurism, psychological and emotional abuse, and family violence maintains a concerning prevalence. As society becomes increasingly technologically dominated, young girls and women are much more prone to sexual harassment online. There is a strong need for digital safety coaching to prevent all women from becoming victims of sexual misconduct, which can leave long-term physical and/or mental trauma. Domestically, too, there is concern over the under-reportage of cases of sexual harassment or misconduct particularly due to entrenched stigmas within the community. Therefore, it is vital to consider unreported and/or undisclosed cases of sexual misconduct. Ultimately, only when the courts impose proportionate punishments as deterrence can there be true safety and protection against sex-related crimes for women in Singapore.
Finally, a large concern raised is that many women in Singapore often feel financially insecure. This is due to a combination of the economic nuances that spans across all four domains. From the wage gap to retirement adequacy, certain public and private policies inherently place men at a standing of greater significance than women, which limits women’s ability to reach their full financial potential. Using these issues as a vantage point, SCWO and its member organisations also hope to tackle them.
The report follows to acknowledge and address SCWO and its member organisations’ initiatives in promoting the status of women in Singapore. The mentioned initiatives range from specific policy promotion programmes to community-centric projects that are either for the short-term or long-term. These initiatives touch upon issues, which are specific to the missions of each member organisation, reflected in the four large sectors: home, schools, workplaces, and the community. SCWO has also included its proposals of projects it plans to recommend the government into enacting to promote symbolic and tangible change for the status of women in Singapore. Broader and more details pertaining to all initiatives are revealed in the appendix of the report.
SCWO uses the report to detail two projects, large in scope and scale, to help shift the status quo concerning gender equity in Singapore. Both initiatives focus on the role of women. The first initiative introduces BoardAgender’s Submission to Panel for Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development from August 2021, an evaluation of how gender equality and specifically the status of women may progress in Singapore. It also provides recommendations and feedback surrounding the pipeline, process, principles and partnerships. The second initiative is a proposal of SCWO, which aims to celebrate the achievements of important Singaporean women that will, in turn, create a symbolic and tangible impact on the societal view of women in Singapore.
SCWO proposes that concrete and physical changes in the public sphere will create mindset shifts within the public itself. To do so, SCWO hopes to dedicate a public space to Singapore women, collectively or individually, to honour them for their contributions in nation building. In collaboration with government agencies and community partners, SCWO believes that developing spaces dedicated to women who have made an impact in any aspect of the country’s development will serve as an active and emblematic pursuit of elevating women’s position in the country.
SCWO closes the report by emphasising a need to taking both small and large steps in order to help women in Singapore advance within the society. The conclusion includes Appendices that provide great and full-length details regarding SCWO’s and its member organisations’ present and future plans to achieve their short-term and long-term goals. The evaluation, of course, also acknowledges and celebrates the changes both the government and the community have collaborated to make over the course of the country’s history in social justice activism.
Changing public discourse is not an easy task. SCWO is hopeful that, with the right amount of time and effort, the nation will be successful in its review and campaign for gender equity in Singapore. ⬛
1 Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO). Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development – SCWO’s Report. 2021, September 18. Available at: https://www.scwo.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/18SepConversations-on-Singapore-Womens-Development-SCWOs-Report.pdf
The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) is the national coordinating body of women’s organisations in Singapore. SCWO has more than 60 Member Organisations, representing over 600,000 women in Singapore, seeking to promote the ideals of ‘Equal Space, Equal Voice, and Equal Worth’ for women with its members.