Women have much to contribute in politics

Disappointingly, in this election, women form less than 30 per cent of the slate of each political party, despite Singapore's obligation to improve women's representation under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination.

Two parties have no female candidates at all.

Gender affects everyone's experiences of society. It deeply impacts the societal pressures an individual faces and what kind of support they may receive from others.

For example, women face much more pressure than men to provide unpaid care and domestic labour to their families, and women are also much more likely to face sexual harassment or violence.

Men can and should advocate women's rights. But a disproportionately male Parliament is badly placed to consistently integrate women's experiences into its policy deliberations.

For instance, how MPs see caregiving affects their view of employment relationships. Do they see caregiver support as fundamental to workers' rights or as an exceptional accommodation?

The stereotype that women don't belong in political life because of childcare ignores alternative modes of care, notably male caregiving.

It also overlooks the possibility that a candidate can be desirable precisely because they bring a caregiver's perspective to the table.

Dismissing female candidates because of their caregiving role sets up a vicious circle. If we elect fewer women, caregiving will be given less support by the state. This, in turn, makes it harder for women to participate in public life.

It is not uncommon to see male candidates' professional qualifications highlighted, but when it comes to women candidates, it is their reproductive status that gets highlighted.

Female candidates have also been discussed in sexist and belittling terms, with more attention being given to their clothing and appearance than to their ideas and opinions.

Far from being harmless, this kind of gender prejudice sets up additional hurdles for women who might otherwise aspire to politics - potentially depriving society of their talents.

We can all help to eliminate these unnecessary barriers to political participation, by being more mindful about gender equality in our political conversations.

Jolene Tan (Ms)
Senior Manager
Programmes and Communications
Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline 'Women have much to contribute in politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe