Name more streets after women, urges S'pore Council of Women's Organisations

Jalan Hajijah is one of only three roads here that commemorate women in recognition of their achievements in Singapore society.
Jalan Hajijah is one of only three roads here that commemorate women in recognition of their achievements in Singapore society.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS

SINGAPORE - The road to greater recognition for women can lie in naming more streets here after women, with a list of only about 40 so far, according to the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO).

But some 540 roads in the country are named after men, it noted.

Nearly half the roads named after women are linked to British royalty, such as Elizabeth Drive and Margaret Drive.

The remainder are mostly associated with female relatives of early local businessmen or colonial British administrators. Joan Road, for instance, is linked to the daughter of Sir Andrew Caldecott, Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements in the 1930s.

To plug this gender gap, a SCWO proposal published on Saturday (Sept 18) called for more public spaces to be named after those who have made significant contributions.

On the same day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the closing session of the Conversations on Singapore Women's Development that a proposed garden at Dhoby Ghaut Green will be dedicated to women to honour and celebrate their pioneering spirit and contributions.

So far, only three roads here commemorate women in recognition of their achievements in Singapore society, said the report.

These include Jalan Hajijah in Siglap, which recognises Madam Hajijah Cemat, who owned the land in the area and built the original Kampung Siglap Mosque.

The other two are Elliot Road/Walk in Siglap, which honours St Andrew's Orthopaedic Hospital physician Patricia Ruth Elliot, and Blackmore Drive in Bukit Timah, named in recognition of the contributions of Methodist Girls' School founder Sophia Blackmore.

More roads and spaces named after women would be a visible and physically permanent way to celebrate their accomplishments and shift mindsets that "it was just men who built and shaped Singapore", the report said, citing the 167 individuals in the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame.

The hall of fame was launched by the SCWO in 2014, with outstanding women inducted each year at a gala dinner in March to mark International Women's Day.

For example, activists Chan Choy Siong, Che Zahara and Shirin Fozdar were crucial in campaigning for the Women's Charter in 1961, which advanced fundamental rights for women including equal status in a marriage.

Naming, dedicating or renaming public spaces such as roads and buildings is a traditionally accepted way of recognising one's feats, the report added.

In 2009, a road in Clementi was named after Dutch economist Albert Winsemius. He was engaged as an external economic adviser to Singapore from 1961 to 1984, and made many recommendations for its future industrialisation programme.

The move to name public spaces would be fitting for the Ministry of Social and Family Development's commitment to celebrate the achievements of women this year, the report noted.

It listed 10 notable women from the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame to kick-start the naming process of roads or spaces this year.

Among them is World War II heroine Elizabeth Choy, who covertly helped British prisoners of war at the Singapore Mental Hospital and was tortured for more than 200 days by the Japanese for doing so.

Mrs Choy also became the first female Legislative Council member in 1951 and the first principal of the Singapore School for the Blind in 1956.

Observing that streets can be renamed under special circumstances and the process should not affect the history of the area, the report proposed for some roads to be renamed after a Hall of Fame woman.

Prinsep Link near the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, for instance, could be renamed after artist Georgette Chen. She was part of a group that established the Nanyang-style art movement in the 1950s and taught at the school.

If finding existing streets for renaming proves to be a challenge, new roads in Housing Board developments could be included, added the report.

Parts of gardens and green spaces could also be named after women, it said, identifying a landscaped area at Dhoby Ghaut Green and a small park off Desker Road in Little India as potential sites.

This effort to establish physical landmarks honouring women comes amid a global push over the past 10 years in cities such as Rome and Paris to name more streets after women.