SINGAPORE - Singapore remains committed to the protection of women's rights, and is continuing to take steps to promote gender equality.
At the same time "we must bear in mind our unique national circumstances and aspirations", including the country's cultural, social, and historical context, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development, in response to a United Nations committee report urging that more be done to tackle discrimination.
O n Tuesday (Nov 21), the UN Cedaw (Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) committee repeated its recommendation that Singapore include in its laws a prohibition of all forms of discrimination against women. It said the Singapore Constitution currently forbids discrimination on grounds of only "religion, race, descent or place of birth". It added that lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women should be also similarly protected.
Other recommendations included abolishing marital immunity for rape; eliminating the "the head of the household" concept; and prohibiting polygamy.
The committee also encouraged Singapore to allow all foreign wives of citizens to have the Long-Term Visit Pass Plus; and have domestic workers receive the same labour protections as other workers, including under the Employment Act.
The committee made its recommendations after taking into account reports by the state, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as oral statements by NGOs in Geneva on Oct 23. During a day-long dialogue in Geneva on Oct 25, the committee posed questions to and heard answers from the Singapore delegation.
Particular attention was also paid to ending violence against women. The committee highlighted the provision of gender-sensitivity training at all levels of the criminal justice system and to collect data on violence against women.
In his opening remarks to the Cedaw committee last month, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education said that Singapore "takes a practical and outcomes-based, and not an ideological approach to the realisation of human rights".
"Singapore firmly applies the rule of law to ensure stability, equality and social justice, which are necessary conditions for respecting the fundamental human rights enshrined in our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We focus on delivering good socio-economic outcomes through pragmatic public policies," he said.
A MSF spokesman highlighted on Thursday (Nov 23) how the Cedaw Committee had acknowledged Singapore's efforts in promoting gender equality and protecting the rights of women.
Some of these, introduced since the last Cedaw review in 2011, include the introduction of two weeks of paid paternity leave for fathers, the establishment of the Diversity Action Committee to address the issue of under-representation of women on corporate boards, the extension of childcare and elderly care facilities to support those with caregiving responsibilities, and the introduction of religious edicts to secure the financial welfare of Muslim women and their dependants.
"We will consider the Committee's recommendations when reviewing our policies to address the gaps in our society. We will also continue to engage the relevant stakeholders, including civil society, in our shared goal to facilitate women's progress in Singapore," the spokesman added.
Ms Malathi Das, chairman of the coalition of 13 Singapore NGOs which submitted a joint shadow report to the Cedaw Committee in October, said: "The coalition is delighted that our report was thoroughly considered during the Singapore state review process, and that the committee regarded our findings valuable."
She added: "Until the next review, the coalition intends to work closely with our fellow NGOs to follow up on the recommendations, and invite the state to engage with us during this process."
Mrs Laura Hwang, the Singapore Government Representative for Women's Rights to the Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, said: "Having presented the NGO report at the last Cedaw review in 2011, as the President of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations then, I am pleased to note the progress made since then by the Singapore Government, taking on board some of the previous recommendations.
"I have every expectation that more recommendations will be adopted in the future."