Need for right policies to give women real choices: Sun Xueling

Examine if these are in place to help them juggle work and home commitments, she says

The right policies need to be in place to give women real choices when it comes to balancing work and home responsibilities, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development as well as Education Sun Xueling.

Now that a wide-ranging review of women's development has begun, it may be time to examine if appropriate schemes are in place, for instance, to help women balance a career with caregiving responsibilities, she added.

It may also be worth looking at whether existing arrangements, such as flexiwork, go far enough in helping women juggle their commitments, Ms Sun said.

These were some of the issues raised by stakeholders on Sunday during a dialogue that saw the participation of Ms Sun, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth as well as Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, and Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam.

The dialogue - the first of many - was part of efforts to gather ideas and suggestions that will form the basis of a White Paper to be delivered in the first half of next year, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Sunday, when he announced the review.

Ms Sun said the review will be a "whole-of-society exercise".

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday for its daily show The Big Story, Ms Sun said: "We're going to have to speak to people across different age groups, different sectors, and from all walks of life, to get a sense of what they think about how far we have come, and what more we can do.

"So, we hope to reach out to the people and private sectors, and we hope to work with voluntary welfare organisations," she said.

Partner organisations such as the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations and National Trades Union Congress will organise these conversations, she added.

The reaction from Singaporeans to the review has been very encouraging, said Ms Sun. "A few hours after the conversation we had yesterday, I had many e-mails come in, text messages, people from different organisations, different walks of life wanting to be involved in these conversations."

She said the initial estimate was to have about 10 to 12 of the engagement dialogues, but now perhaps several more will be needed.

 
 
 

On Sunday, participants homed in on a raft of issues they felt needed to be tackled. These include workplace discrimination and the gender pay gap, as well as casual sexism, gender stereotypes and respect for women, said Ms Sun.

Issues such as family violence towards women and concerns about the disproportionate burden of caregiving responsibilities falling on women were also raised.

Said Ms Sun: "I think the pandemic has cast a spotlight on these areas, and also, how do we weigh the contributions of women who are homemakers, for instance.

"And in the workplace and school environments, there are questions such as: Is there workplace discrimination or gender pay gap? And are there appropriate policies in place to ensure that women - when we say that they have choices - that they have real choices?"

When asked, Ms Sun said the review could lead to policy or structural changes. "We hope that this set of recommendations is going to be broad and far-reaching enough, setting out our position as a society as to how we see women's development and gender equality."

 
 

The White Paper, she added, will be debated in Parliament.

"And after that, if there is a need for policy changes, or legislative changes, then we will address it at that point," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Need for right policies to give women real choices: Sun Xueling'. Print Edition | Subscribe