SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic has undermined women's progress, and there are three areas that countries around the world can focus on to advance gender equality, President Halimah Yacob said on Monday (March 8).
She called for governments to prioritise gender equality and place it at the centre of their development programmes and to ensure women have equal access to education and training and labour market information.
There also needs to be greater, measurable improvements in the workplace such as narrowing the gender wage gap, added Madam Halimah, who delivered the opening remarks at the two-day Women of Our Time conference organised by South China Morning Post. Monday also marks International Women's Day.
"(The pandemic) has affected women disproportionately and exposed them to greater vulnerabilities. This points to the need for more urgent and coordinated efforts to support women's development," said Madam Halimah.
Governments need to establish effective national policies and implement programmes to better integrate women in the economy and society, she said.
Widening inequalities weaken the social fabric, undermine solidarity, retard human potential and affect future growth.
"It is also important to ensure women are represented at all levels of decision making, so that their voices can be heard, and their needs and aspirations are better reflected," she said.
Women also need to be able to participate meaningfully in the economy with the right skills and capabilities and with the right access to jobs and opportunities, she added.
Reports have shown how greater gender equality can boost economic growth and enhance productivity, she said.
However, women must be trained beyond the traditional sectors where there is greater risk of job redundancy due to technological and structural changes as well as climate change.
A key growth area to focus on is to get more women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) fields, said Madam Halimah.
"The continued lack of women in these fields will put them at a disadvantage as they will be excluded from the many good careers, particularly as technology has become an important enabler in practically all aspects of our lives," she said.
At the workplace, business leaders should set targets to narrow the gender wage gap and ensure gender balance in hiring and career advancement policies, in particular in leadership positions, she added.
To meaningfully achieve this, businesses have to allocate enough resources, set gender equality as a business objective and make it trackable by all in the company, she said.
The inaugural conference, which features speakers from around the world, aims to highlight how women in Asia are crucial in bringing about change and opportunities for a new generation amid mounting challenges.
Other speakers include newly appointed World Trade Organisation director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman to hold the title; former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard; and female business leaders including Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling and Trip.com Group chief executive Jane Sun.
Meanwhile, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said at a separate event on Monday that women comprise only 30 per cent of people working in tech, and more can be done to encourage women to join the sector.
Launching the SG Women in Tech Company Pledge, with about 50 companies committing to initiatives that support women in the sector, Mrs Teo said she hopes more organisations will join such initiatives.
Orchid hybrid dedicated to Singapore women
A new orchid hybrid celebrating Singapore women was unveiled yesterday by President Halimah Yacob.
Featuring scarlet-purple hues and a bright orange-yellow "throat" streaked with red, it was created by the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
The Papilionanthe SG Women (right) was unveiled at the Istana to commemorate the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Year of Celebrating SG Women and International Women's Day.
"Vigorous and free-flowering", the orchid hybrid can produce blooms all year round.
It traces its lineage back to the Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore's national flower and one of the first orchid hybrids bred by a woman - Miss Agnes Joaquim.
Madam Halimah dedicated the new flower to all Singapore women.
"I am sure that this flower will flourish and bloom like all our elegant and poised Singapore women who are always striving to fulfil their aspiration and achieve ever more for our nation, families and humankind."