Gender diversity not just tokenism, says President-elect

With determination and hard work, every woman can aspire to highest office: Halimah

Returning Officer Mr Ng Wai Choong, the chief executive of the Energy Market Authority, directing Madam Halimah Yacob together with her husband, Mr Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee on stage at the People's Association HQ in King George's Avenue.

The sound of a glass ceiling shattering reverberated around the People's Association Headquarters at 12.10pm yesterday, when Madam Halimah Yacob declared to her supporters: "I stand before you as the first female president of Singapore."

A roar of approval greeted the figurative breakthrough. And the loud cheers seemed to lift Madam Halimah as her serious face broke into a wide smile.

"I can see that many of our sisters here are delighted. I delight with you," said the 63-year-old, beaming as she placed her hand over her heart.

She added that her new post "shows that this is not just tokenism, that when we talk about gender diversity, we are not just chanting slogans, but that we really mean it".

"Every woman can aspire to the highest office of the land, if you have the courage, the determination and the will to work hard," she said.

Singapore has had only three women full ministers in its modern history, and 23 of its 100 MPs today are women.

Madam Halimah's historic achievement was hailed by the Singapore Muslim Women's Organisation (PPIS).

Its president Rahayu Mohamad, 50, said in a statement: "Madam Halimah has shown us that there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish."

Madam Rahayu acknowledged that Madam Halimah's resignation as Speaker of Parliament, MP and member of the People's Action Party's top decision-making body was a loss to the representation of women in Parliament.

But "as the first female president, Madam Halimah will continue to be an inspiration to the women of Singapore, especially our future leaders, who will be encouraged to take on new challenges, embrace leadership roles and contribute to nation- building", she added.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) also congratulated Madam Halimah in a Facebook post.

It urged her to speak up for gender equality, adding: "We also hope that more will be done to improve access to politics for all of Singapore's women."

Ms Rahayu Mahzam, 37, a Jurong GRC MP who oversees the Bukit Batok East ward Madam Halimah used to helm, said: "While we see more successful women now defying norms, the harsh reality is that there are still people who doubt a woman's capability."

But she was confident that Madam Halimah would once again set new standards and redefine society's perception of a woman.

"Regardless of the circumstances that led to her presidency, she worked hard to get to where she is - to attain that respect and stature," said Ms Rahayu.

"Her humble background never stopped her, and that is inspiring. She is the epitome of the principle that if you are willing to work hard, you can achieve a lot," she added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline Gender diversity not just tokenism, says President-elect. Subscribe