By The Way

Ode to mothers, daughters and wonder women: What politicians are up to this week

(From left) Ms Indranee Rajah giving roses to her 99-year-old mum, and Ms Sun Xueling reading a Mother's Day card from her daughter. PHOTOS: TIKTOK/INDRANEE RAJAH, SUN XUELING

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times looks at what politicians, and the politically related, are up to in this weekly series.

In this edition, we take a look at how our MPs honour the women who raised them and, in keeping with the theme, some of their views on female representation in national service after the issue was raised in Parliament this week.

Look out for the latest edition of the series every Friday, and check out past ones here.

Mum's the word… on their lips

Mother's Day took place on Sunday (May 8) and almost every MP was in on the action, giving out flowers during their walkabouts and putting up heartfelt social media posts of appreciation for their own matriarchs.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah stood out, however, with her TikTok dedication. In a simple video of her gifting a bouquet of roses and a loving nuzzle to her mother - set to the strains of Louis Armstrong's classic What A Wonderful World - Ms Indranee also revealed that the older woman was 99 years young and had beaten Covid-19 just two months ago.

"So wanted to make this Mother's Day extra special for her," said Ms Indranee, in a post that drew about 1,800 likes and hundreds of comments and shares.

Most of these remarked on the beauty of her mother - Madam Ng Yew Keng, also known as Mrs Mavis Thurairajah - with one calling her an angel.

Minister of State for Education and Manpower Gan Siow Huang also received flowers from her 10-year-old daughter, along with a note to the former brigadier-general that read: "Thank you for raising me to what I am now. I have learnt a lot of things from you like how to be kind."

Ms Gan said: "The words from her heart are the most precious to me."

Also on the receiving end of handwritten sentiments: Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling, whose five-year-old daughter crafted a pop-up book that was a little rough around the edges in production quality but exceptionally smooth in delivering the warm - and funny - fuzzies.

"Thank you for beringing mi to the pplayegrown… for sleeping wif mi… for loving mi," wrote the little one, with Ms Sun attempting to narrate verbatim in a one-minute clip while staying as deadpan as possible.

"I think that's a picture of me," said the MP for Punggol West as she came across a drawing of a pink-haired woman titled I Love You Mothers.

Ms Sun then captioned the post saying, "I love the spelling by the way", alongside three laughing emojis.

Serving the nation's needs - equally?

The notion of women being conscripted into national service has been bandied about again in recent times. In May last year, the executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) called for NS to be made gender-neutral and expanded beyond its armed and civil defence forces domains to include others such as community and healthcare.

This was echoed during a March parliamentary debate on the White Paper on Singapore Women's Development, with Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC) suggesting that NS include care vocations to support the community.

But on Monday (May 9), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told the House that the societal cost of mandating NS for women - even in non-military roles - would far outweigh any benefits.

Enlisting women would suspend their individual liberties as civilians, delay their entry into the workforce and lead to a declining manpower pool and reduced household incomes, he said.

"Is that cost justified to send a signal or to reverse stereotypes? From the Government's perspective, no. I think most Singaporeans would say 'no' too, from a security perspective," added Dr Ng.

In a subsequent Facebook post, Ms Tan said her suggestion was not driven by a "simplistic ideal of equality" but to meet the national caregiving needs of an ageing population.

"If national service means service to the nation, it only makes sense that we evolve it to meet the most pressing needs of our nation," she said, noting that in Switzerland, conscripts can opt for "civilian service" in areas such as healthcare, welfare and environmental protection.

"If national service for women is too big a first step, perhaps we can instead begin by creating a National Care Corps in schools to socialise young people to care work," added Ms Tan.

A commenter on her post shared a link to a 2016 discussion by dialectic.sg, a now-dormant website housing debates on policy issues. On the question of whether Singapore should introduce NS for women, 76.6 per cent - albeit of a small group of 46 respondents - said yes.

Back in 2013, a survey of 1,251 Singaporeans by the Institute of Policy Studies think-tank found that about one in 10 - 9.3 per cent - of women were willing to volunteer for a two-year full-time NS stint.

Whether sentiments on the ground have since evolved remains to be seen, but there is no denying that women can contribute to defending the nation. Ms Gan (Marymount) was the first woman to hold a general rank in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF); Ms Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC) was a former helicopter pilot and squadron flight commander and first female full-time aide-de-camp to a Singapore president; and Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) was once a police inspector.

This week, Mr Edward Chia (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) also posted about residents in his constituency being awarded Singapore citizenships, including a woman called Samrita who signed on to serve in the SAF.

"Samrita is a young lady who chose to commit her future to Singapore and took a step further," said Mr Chia. "Her conviction to contribute to our continuous nation building is inspiring."

On a Hari Raya visit to the Public Transport Security Command (TransCom) headquarters, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam also made mention of the unit's first female commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police Fanny Koh.

"She practises yoga and covers Olympic-distance triathlons (10km run, 40km cycle and 1.5km swim) under three hours," said Mr Shanmugam of the veteran cop.

Among other feathers in her cap, AC Koh has led security arrangements for key events in Singapore such as the historic 2015 meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his then-Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou. She was also involved in rescue efforts during the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.

Johor with Jamus

Elsewhere, Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) - whose social media chops have made him a regular in this series - announced what appears to be a novel initiative: a chance to go on holiday with him.

The associate professor's Anchorvale ward is organising a day trip during the June holidays to the Malaysian village of Bekok, known for its century-old train station and local waterfall.

For $78 a pop for adults and $75 for children, one can ride on a 44-seater coach with a tour guide to the locale on the outskirts of Johor state, visit a museum there and go shopping, meals inclusive.

Tickets go on sale only from May 23 at his two Meet-the-People Session venues in Anchorvale, but among the largely positive reactions, some netizens are already asking if non-Anchorvale residents can also sign up.

Prof Lim said there has been "good response thus far, with a large number of inquiries".

"We are excited to be able to offer such events for residents, now that borders have reopened, and are looking forward to expanding our range of community events, not just via trips, but also via educational outreach, town halls, movie nights and art/music festivals."

The good professor is nothing if not ambitious!

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