Lessons from former US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as Singapore reviews women's issues

The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a pioneering advocate for women's rights in the United States. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a pioneering advocate for women's rights in the United States, a woman who championed gender equality and broke down barriers.

Her advocacy has provided some food for thought as Singapore embarks on its review of women issues, and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam cited her remarks on the subject on Sunday (Sept 20).

Speaking to some 60 participants from youth groups and women organisations at a virtual dialogue to collect feedback and recommendations on gender equality, Mr Shanmugam said it is important to "start with accepting equality", with any differential treatment then having to be justified.

"And equality must not just be formal, but substantive, and takes into account the unique challenges, needs that women face, and the specific effects that policies have on them, to truly level the playing field."

Asking the audience to consider this context, Mr Shanmugam quoted Justice Ginsburg as having said: "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exceptions."

The second woman to serve on the US Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg died last Friday (Sept 18) at the age of 87 in her home in Washington.

She was the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law School, and also founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr Shanmugam said she was a "true titan in the fight for women's rights" in the United States.

In his keynote address on Sunday, the minister said that another lesson to be drawn from her work was "the role that men can play, in recognising the equal role of women, helping them fulfil their potential".

"On her late husband, Martin Ginsburg, she said this: 'I have had the great fortune to share a life with a partner truly extraordinary for his generation, a man who believed at age 18 when we met, and who believes today, that a woman's work, whether at home or on the job, is as important as a man's.'"

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