Room for women in leadership roles here: Halimah

Halimah Yacob signing copies of the Marsiling Cookbook, which collects recipes from cooks of different races, during the book's launch on March 12, 2017.
Halimah Yacob signing copies of the Marsiling Cookbook, which collects recipes from cooks of different races, during the book's launch on March 12, 2017.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE-Singapore has "come a long way" in terms of female participation in politics, and there is still room to grow when it comes to women taking up leadership positions in Singapore, said Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob.

Speaking to reporters at an International Women's Day celebration at Marsiling Community Club on Sunday (Mar 12), she noted Singapore's "tremendous progress" in terms of the percentage of women in Parliament.

"If you look (back) at the 80s, we didn't have a single female Member of Parliament," said Madam Halimah, adding it is difficult for her, as Speaker now, to visualise "a field of male Parliamentarians" back then.

"(Now) we've got over 20 per cent which is higher than the international average...so that's pretty good."

Madam Halimah, 62, has been touted as a potential contender for the presidential elections to be held this September.

It will be reserved for candidates from the Malay community under broader constitutional changes passed last November that spell out how a presidential election will be reserved for a particular racial group that has not produced a president for five terms in a row.

Singapore has not seen a Malay president for 46 years since its first president Yusof Ishak, who died in office on Nov 23, 1970.

But asked if she thinks there would be potential for more female ministers and a female president in Singapore, Madam Halimah said it was a "tricky question" that she would not be able to answer.

"But certainly, I hope to see women growing in leadership positions in Singapore, because that then allows women to fully develop their capabilities and contribute.

"We are made up of half men and half women, so we must have both engines running at...the optimum speed," said Madam Halimah, who also launched a cookbook at the event.

The book, which contains over 30 recipes from chefs and Marsiling residents, including Madam Halimah's recipe for low-fat sayur lodeh, raised $26,000 for the Marsiling Independent Mums project.

An initiative by the Marsiling Women's Executive Committee, the project started with a group of 20 single mothers in the ward last November.

It aims to give single mothers short-term financial assistance, and help them with skills training and finding employment, said Ms Molly Too, who chairs the committee.

Madam Halimah, an MP for the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, also said Singaporean women have taken strides forward, with many taking part in fields that are traditionally dominated by men, such as science courses in university.

She called for employers and families to support women, particularly working mothers, and reiterated her support for introducing eldercare leave.