International Women's Day: Female trailblazers in Singapore Police Force

(From left) Assistant Superintendent of Police Fionie Chan and Deputy Assistant Commissioners M. Malathi and Tay Wee Li. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Rising through the ranks to become Deputy Assistant Commissioner was largely possible for Madam Tay Wee Li because of gender equality at home.

Presently in charge of planning and executing Singapore Police Force (SPF) intelligence operations, she splits the household chores evenly with her husband who is in charge of cooking and disciplining their 10-year old twin girls.

"He is the tiger father and a better chef than me," she said.

Even so, she gets no more than five hours of sleep a night to carve out time for family and carry out her work.

Over the past decade, more female police officers have been taking up top posts in the force.

Sixteen per cent of SPF senior leadership positions are now held by women, a 50 per cent rise from 2011.

DAC Tay said that strong support from her bosses and co-workers has made life a bit less challenging for her as a working mum.

"They are very understanding when I have to head off to tend to my family. They will tell me to settle things back at home first and come back with peace of mind," she said.

When the SPF first started hiring women in 1949, they were commonly deployed for clerical work.

But today, they have taken up positions in almost every aspect of policing, said SPF.

At this point in time, it has more than 1,800 female officers, who make up about 19 per cent the force.

Even in specialist units, such as the Special Operations Command and Emergency Response Team, the number of female police officers has risen by more than a fifth since 2011.

For Assistant Superintendent of Police Fionie Chan, who works as a planning officer in the traffic police department, gender equality goes both ways.

She holds herself to the same standards as she does her male colleagues.

"I take it upon myself as a team leader to make sure that I meet the standards (set for) my officers - if not (do) better.

I have to be as fit as they are and as skilled with using the weapons," she said.

In 2008, just after completing a 5km race, DAC M. Malathi learnt that former Jemaah Islamiyah leader Mas Selamat bin Kastari had just escaped from detention.

Still wearing T-shirt and shorts, she jumped right into leading search operations for the terrorist leader.

Being a woman, however, comes with certain advantages. Once, she was called to deal with a man causing trouble during a Thaipusam event some years ago.

DAC Malathi said she was able to take a softer approach and prevent the situation from escalating.

"His brother told him to stop, seeing that I was a female officer, and we were able to get him to calm down," said DAC Malathi, now the deputy commander of Public Transport Security Command.

ASP Chan wants younger women who have dreams of joining the police force not to hold back on account of their gender.

"It can be challenging at times, but it's an exciting and meaningful career," she said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.