SINGAPORE - This year has been declared as the Year of Celebrating SG Women, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli announced on Saturday (Jan 30).
As women's contributions are integral to the Singapore story, the aim is to celebrate their progress and potential across society, said Mr Masagos.
"We will celebrate our women's multi-faceted roles across society, and we will also celebrate the men who help to debunk stereotypes, change mindsets and play an active role in supporting and uplifting women," he added.
The country's focus on women's issues gained momentum last year when the Government announced that it will conduct a review of issues affecting women, to bring about a mindset change on values such as gender equality and respect for women.
A key component of the review is a series of dialogues called "Conversations on Singapore Women's Development", which started in September last year.
The talking points and suggestions gathered from the dialogues will form the basis of a White Paper to be tabled in Parliament in the second half of 2021. The White Paper will contain recommendations for the continued progress of women in Singapore.
Throughout 2021, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will organise celebrations and activities as part of the women's movement.
Other milestones that will mark the year-long celebrations include International Women's Day in March, and legislative reviews - including those involving the Women's Charter, said Mr Masagos in a Facebook post on Saturday.
Speaking on the sidelines of a virtual dialogue on Saturday, Mr Masagos said that along with the conversations and the planned White Paper, it will take a whole-of-society effort to form a more inclusive nation, and create and implement solutions that further progress the lives of women here.
"We will continue to work closely with you to co-create and catalyse solutions that will shift societal mindsets to foster a fairer and more inclusive society for our men and women," he added.
"Globally, women face higher risks of both income loss and increased violence, sexual exploitation, or abuse. Despite efforts made to protect and uplift Singapore women, they are not exempt from these vulnerabilities, some of which may have been exacerbated by Covid-19."
Also in a Facebook post on Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged that creating an equitable society for women is an ongoing process in Singapore.
"We've made progress over the years at home, in workplaces and in society, but we still need to change mindsets further," added Mr Lee.
Since September last year, 23 virtual conversations have drawn more than 1,000 participants, including working mothers, housewives, women leaders, men and young people. And till the second half of the year, about 100 more dialogues are being held.
A key recurring issue in every conversation so far was the push to change mindsets about gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles, revealed Mr Masagos.
"Participants have raised concerns that traditional gender roles remain entrenched in our society today and may hinder us from achieving equity between men and women."
He added that these entrenched stereotypes may prevent men from being more involved at home, and employers may provide fewer flexible work arrangements to help balance the amount of caregiving and domestic responsibilities between men and women.
The solution is to make domestic work visible and valued, observed Sociologist Paulin Straughan from the Singapore Management University.
"You are rewarded based on your output at work. If you work 24 hours at home, you don't get noticed. We shouldn't encourage over-investment in paid work, and employers must respect after-office hours," she said. "If we come to that, more men will naturally find that they can do more at home."
She also hopes that the movement will recognise homemakers, women who work shifts, and those who work in factories and in the service sector.
Other issues raised at the conversations include addressing family and sexual violence, and enhancing support for women's training and career development.
The comprehensive review on women's issues had been sparked in part by recent incidents of voyeurism on campuses.
When Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam announced the review last year, he said issues like sexual violence, voyeurism, and differential treatment in the office based on gender should be considered "a deep violation of fundamental values".
Saturday's dialogue was organised by the People's Association Women's Integration Network Council, and involved about 50 participants.
Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling, who joined the virtual discussions, noted that the participants emphasised how respect is a key value and cornerstone of the relationship between women and men, in furthering gender equality.
"A young man spoke about the sexual misconduct cases in institutes of higher learning. He talked about how important it was for the survivors of sexual violence to feel respected and have channels of communication, and for help to be readily available to them," she added.
Ms Sun is also one of three female political office holders who are helming the comprehensive review on women's issues.
The other two are Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, and Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam.
Although the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) is excited about the movement, it noted that there are various inequalities that women still face, with links to race, citizenship and class.
"Celebration typically happens at the end of an effort… When women no longer have to fear for their safety on and offline; when women no longer worry about accessing decent housing for themselves and their children… when that happens, we will celebrate with all our hearts," said Aware's president Margaret Thomas.
Ms Dipa Swaminathan, founder of social enterprise ItsRainingRaincoats, said: "I look forward to seeing how this movement unfolds for Singapore. I hope that in showcasing the stories of women who have achieved great things in their fields, it will encourage and enable others females not to feel that their gender works against them."
To mark the Year of Celebrating SG Women, MSF also unveiled a logo on Saturday, inspired by Singapore's national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim.
The three silhouettes embedded in the orchid symbol represent the progress of women from the past to the present and into the future, while the spectrum of shades symbolise the diversity of women across generations and backgrounds.
Those interested to participate in the upcoming Conversations on Singapore Women's Development can visit this website.