There has "never been a ceiling" on how high women can climb in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has stressed.
His comments during this SAF Day interview last Friday came ahead of the promotion of air force officer Gan Siow Huang, who is the first SAF woman combatant to rise to the rank of brigadier-general.
Asked whether Brigadier- General Gan has broken the "brass ceiling", he replied: "We promote based on merit. There's never been a ceiling. Not based on gender, not based on race."
Dr Ng pointed out that BG Gan rose to her position on her own merit, and said: "She just happens to be female."
DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN ON...
WHY SHOULD SAF CELEBRATE ITS GOLDEN JUBILEE?
You want to do it not so much to make yourself proud, but to recognise how difficult the journey was, that it could have gone very wrong. To acknowledge not only specific individuals, but you know this is such a big endeavour that there were so many people involved in it, to acknowledge (them).
WHAT CHALLENGES DOES SINGAPORE FACE IN DEMOGRAPHY?
One in three marriages of Singaporeans is to non-Singaporeans. You have a population that will grow up with diverse influences. This is already ongoing, and yet, we have been able to maintain and integrate, and bring in each year new national servicemen who identify with the needs, the ethos, the history of Singapore, and why we need a strong SAF. We need to keep doing this, so national education is obviously important.
HOW HAS YOUR TAKING TO FACEBOOK A YEAR AGO HELPED TO SHAPE THE IMAGE OF THE SAF?
I'm old school... But I was persuaded to come out of my comfort zone because it is a new generation. It is a more touchy-feely generation. And to the point that if you don't speak in the first voice, then when people hear it, they hear it from others. And that's a disadvantage. That hearing from the first voice allows people to hear what you believe, what you feel more strongly.
And that's fundamentally, I think, what a family is. You have shared experiences, shared responses. So, it's been good.
He added that Singapore Armed Forces recruits progress because of their capabilities, "not because of anything else".
BG Gan, 40, was among seven colonels who received their first star as brigadier-general or rear- admiral last Friday. They will wear their new ranks on SAF Day today.
In 2009, Brigadier-General Ishak Ismail became the first Malay Muslim to become a general.
His promotion was hailed as a milestone in efforts to fully integrate Malays in the military - a controversial issue ever since it was disclosed in 1987 that the SAF adopted a cautious approach in placing them in key positions.
But Dr Ng said an able officer will rise to the top "because we (the SAF) need you".
"Anyone who can pull his (or her) weight, we'll expect you to pull your weight and (we will) push you to a position where you have to pull your weight and more."
Dr Ng added that anyone who feels he is being "held back and discriminated (against) because of any other reasons, you talk to me and I'll make sure that will never happen. It will not happen under my watch".
Women now make up just 7 per cent of the SAF, but Dr Ng noted that modern militaries are more
receptive to skill sets such as intelligence and administration, so "there are more opportunities for women to hold pinnacle positions".
He added: "So my pitch is, if you feel you're good enough to be a general, come and join the SAF."