International Women's Day: Asia's strong role models in the workforce

(From left) Ms Wong Kai Yun, Ms Fatima Mynsong, Ms Serene Chew and Ms Claire Hu. PHOTO: ST FILE, PRAKASH BHUYAN, SERENE CHEW

On International Women's Day (IWD) on Tuesday (March 8), The Straits Times highlights stories of women from all walks of life across Asia, facing unique challenges in their individual roles in society and in the workforce.

This collection of premium feature stories have now been put outside the paywall - making them free for all to read online - as part of ST’s contribution towards the global mission of raising awareness and changing attitudes on women’s issues. 

This initiative is a collaboration with the World Editors Forum (WEF) - part of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra) - and the Asia News Network (ANN) to "Break The Bias", this year's IWD theme, and to amplify the push for women’s equality.

What life - and brushes with death - taught a S'pore lawyer

Ms Wong Kai Yun credits her decision to stubbornly press on with work for how far she has come in her practice today.
Ms Wong Kai Yun credits her decision to stubbornly press on with work for how far she has come in her practice today. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Singaporean family lawyer Wong Kai Yun may be considered among some of the world's most powerful women, but she knows what it is like to feel small and inadequate.

The co-managing director at Chia Wong Chambers, who has been recognised yearly on the Citywealth International Financial Centre Power Women Top 200 list since 2013, describes her experience as a speaker at a global conference.

"My co-panellists were all very tall, and the podium - when I stood next to it - came up to my chin," says Ms Wong, who stands at a petite 1.52m tall. "We had to consider, should I then be excluded from the panel and get another to deliver my speech, or should they find something for me to step on, which would have been very obvious as someone would then have to carry in a box."


How a former SQ girl became Japan's popular 'giant slaying' politician

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Opposition politician Harumi Yoshida has fond memories of her first job, plying the skies with Singapore Airlines. Today, she is a Member of Parliament in Japan’s legislature – one of 45 women elected to the 465-member Lower House.

Ms Harumi Yoshida has fond memories of her first job as a Singapore Girl, decked out in a sarong kebaya and soaring through the skies with Singapore Airlines (SIA).

"A great way to fly!" quips Ms Yoshida, who spent about two years with the airline.

She had also worked in finance and as a university lecturer before becoming a Member of Parliament - one of only 45 women elected to the 465-member Lower House of the National Diet.


How one woman grabbed a rare chance for change in India's Khasi matrilineal tribe

School teacher Fatima Mynsong dreams of a future when her daughter (right) will be part of village councils where women are now prohibited. PHOTO: PRAKASH BHUYAN

School teacher Fatima Mynsong has always lived in a woman's world.

As a woman and mother in one of the world's few matrilineal societies, she makes all the decisions and has the final say in her household.

But it was only in the last decade that she learnt how to make men in her wider community take her views seriously as well. And that is no mean feat for someone in an Indian tribal community so rooted in its revered customs and traditions.


The Malaysian activist giving voice to the unspeakable

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How do you discuss taboo, let alone make a difference to alleviate a related problem? A“period activist” in Malaysia is spreading the word and breaking the stigma to help women and girls from low-income families overcome menstrual poverty.

Every time she talks about her work, people often cringe or fob her off.

It is a problem Ms Reena Awliyatul Imani Reezal Merican, 25, faces as a "period activist".

The secretary of non-governmental organisation (NGO) Sanitary Bank Malaysia and full-time chartered accountant has been trying to raise awareness about period poverty in Malaysia.


Companies breaking the bias to support female staff

Singapore was recently lauded as having the highest percentage of female chief executives in the world at 13.1 per cent. ST PHOTO: ST FILE

As International Women's Day approaches on Tuesday, it is a good opportunity to take stock of what working women here have to cheer about.

Singapore was recently lauded as having the highest percentage of female chief executives in the world at 13.1 per cent.

The gender pay gap narrowed to 4.3 per cent in 2020 from 6.7 per cent in 2018 when adjusted for labour market factors such as occupation, industry and working hours, and human capital factors such as age and education.


Hired when she was seven months pregnant

After working in the banking industry for about a decade, Ms Claire Hua took a break in 2018 to pursue her own interests and try for a baby.

A year later, she was headhunted for a return-to-work programme at TD Securities, a wholesale banking division of TD Bank Group that has been in Singapore since 1979.

Just before her interview, she discovered she was pregnant.


Bosses, colleagues rallied around her when her son was found to have autism

Ms Serene Chew credits her bosses and colleagues for being empathetic and giving her time off for visits to doctors and therapy sessions for her autistic son. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ms Serene Chew's toddler stopped eating during the pandemic. At first, she thought it was because he missed their helper, who left Singapore for family reasons in August 2020.

Her son refused to be cared for by their new helper. He rejected meals lovingly prepared by her husband and drank only milk. The desperate parents scrambled to find anything that he was willing to eat - waffles, but only from a certain bakery. Eggs, but only sous vide. Now four, his diet is mainly bread-based, but again, only one type of bread.

They visited several doctors and specialists, but could not find closure. "They kept telling us that my son looks fine," she recalls.


She has disabilities and joining group buy platform made her feel empowered

Ms Jessica Tan lost some of her sight about three years ago and gets around with the help of a white cane. PHOTO: ST FILE

When Ms Jessica Tan moved to Jurong West three years ago, she found it difficult to make friends.

"I didn't know anyone, not even my neighbours," says Ms Tan, 29, a part-time social work associate, who reckons they may have hesitated approaching her because of her disabilities.

She lost some of her sight about three years ago and gets around with the help of a white cane. She cannot read text, so she uses special software on her laptop and the voice-over function on WhatsApp.


The real Ah Girls Go Army: Meet 4 SAF female soldiers who starred in 2015 Mindef series

(From left) CPT Rebekah Abbott, CPT Anithra Sukumar Srimathi, CPT Nuraishah Ibrahim and CPT Vivian Yuna Ng. PHOTO: ST FILE

Long before local director Jack Neo made his hit comedy movie about female basic military training (BMT), Into The Fray: The Making Of A Female Soldier, a 2015 Web series from the Ministry of Defence, was already showing women how it was done.

Three days after Ah Girls Go Army opened in cinemas here on Feb 1, the ministry sought to jog the public's memory with a Facebook post that urged anyone who wants to know what "the real deal" is like to watch the seven-episode show.

Into The Fray documents the journey of several female recruits from Section 3, Platoon 4, Pegasus Company, as they train to be soldiers in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). It has since garnered more than a million views on YouTube.


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