President Halimah meets Malaysian female politicians, calls for joint efforts for gender equality

President Halimah Yacob (centre) with (from left) Singapore MP Yeo Wan Ling, PAS women's wing deputy chief Rosni Adam, Malaysia Women, Family and Community Development Minister Nancy Shukri, Malaysia Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek, Singapore Minister of State Low Yen Ling and Malaysia Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh at the St Regis Hotel Kuala Lumpur on March 21, 2023. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

KUALA LUMPUR - Representation matters, President Halimah Yacob said on Tuesday during a state visit to Malaysia as she noted the steady advancements made by women on various fronts in Singapore and Malaysia, including the corporate world, politics and government.

Meeting four female Malaysian politicians during her three-day state visit to Malaysia, Madam Halimah said that with their common heritage and deep people-to-people links, the two countries can benefit much from each other’s experiences in instilling gender equality.

“The same high levels of familiarity and trust between us which have fuelled bilateral cooperation in multiple domains, from the economy to climate, from cyber security to education, should also spur greater exchanges between our authorities charged with women’s issues as well as women-led non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations,” she said.

The meeting at the St Regis hotel in Kuala Lumpur was attended by four female politicians from four different political parties in Malaysia. 

They included three of the five female ministers in the current Cabinet – Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek from Parti Keadilan Rakyat; Women, Family and Community Development Minister Nancy Shukri from Gabungan Parti Sarawak; and Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh from the Democratic Action Party. Dr Rosni Adam, deputy chief of Parti Islam SeMalaysia’s women’s wing, was also present.

Noting that International Women’s Day had only recently been marked on March 8, Madam Halimah said women had made huge strides in the two countries on various fronts.

When she first entered Singapore politics in 2001, she was one of only 10 women elected to Parliament out of 84 – about 12 per cent. Today, women make up almost 30 per cent of Singapore’s legislature, she noted.

Similarly, the percentage of female parliamentarians in Malaysia has doubled in the past three decades to 13.5 per cent in 2022.

Madam Halimah said: “The growing ranks of female MPs and political leaders like you inspire young girls to not only have big dreams, but also to give of themselves unstintingly and selflessly to public service.”

In the corporate sphere, the percentage of women on the boards of Singapore’s top 100 listed companies rose to an all-time high of 21.5 per cent in 2022, added Madam Halimah. In Malaysia, the figure was 29 per cent.

Recalling her own experience in persuading younger women to take up leadership positions during her time with the National Trades Union Congress, she said: “It was not easy because many cited the difficulty of balancing work and family as a huge deterrent. So it is encouraging to see more women in leadership positions, making their voices heard in the policymaking and corporate spheres.”

Madam Halimah has championed women’s issues during her term as head of state in Singapore through various platforms, such as the 2022 White Paper on Women’s Development and Women’s Forum Global Meeting.

“Ultimately, it takes all of us – women and men alike – to foster a culture where everyone can fulfil their potential on a level playing field,” she said.

“While supportive government policies are crucial, all of us in our daily lives can play our part to chip away at harmful gender stereotypes, call out unacceptable misconduct, and smoothen the path for those who come after us.”

President Halimah Yacob (centre, right) with Malaysia’s Queen, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, at the Girl Guides Association of Malaysia on March 21, 2023. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Earlier on Tuesday, Madam Halimah, who is also patron of the Girl Guides of Singapore, was hosted to a visit to the Girl Guides Association of Malaysia by the Malaysian Queen, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah. The president of the association, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, whose husband is Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, also attended.

During the visit, Madam Halimah spoke of how guiding not only provides young women with a sense of camaraderie, but also inspires them to take an active interest in the wider community and strive to make a positive difference.

Addressing the Girl Guides in attendance, she said: “I look forward to the many ways each of you will make our world a more inclusive, harmonious and secure one for everyone – regardless of race, language, religion, nationality, or indeed gender.”

Madam Halimah will return to Singapore on Wednesday evening.

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