Review on women's issues in Singapore to be extended so more can participate

Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling with participants at the Conversations on Singapore Women's Development Dialogue. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT

SINGAPORE - Those interested in contributing to the review on women's issues will have more opportunities to do so, as it will be extended until the second half of the year.

About 100 more dialogue sessions have been planned, after earlier sessions attracted more than 1,000 participants.

Announcing this on the sidelines of a dialogue on Saturday (Jan 16), Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said due to the strong interest in the review, a White Paper that was supposed to culminate all the discussions will be pushed back from the first to the second half of the year.

He told reporters at the Singapore Women's Development Dialogue that it was going to be a very substantive ground up feedback.

Mr Shanmugam had announced the comprehensive review of issues affecting women in September last year, with the ultimate aim of bringing about a cultural and mindset change on values such as gender equality and respect for women.

Some have called for gender equality to be enshrined in the Constitution, and Mr Shanmugam said on Saturday when asked: "It will have to be considered as part of an inter-ministerial Government process, debated, decided upon, and I'll be frank, there are different considerations and trade-offs to be considered."

Reiterating the need for a more fundamental and philosophical approach to the issue, he said: "I think people can draw from what I've said, but those are personal views. These issues will have to be debated within Government."

Since the review kicked off in October last year, many proposals and suggestions have been put up.

And top on the list of issues raised has been how to deal with sexual offences, including whether penalties should be increased, whether more conduct should be criminalised, and what kinds of factors should be taken into account during sentencing, Mr Shanmugam disclosed.

The review had been sparked in part by incidents of voyeurism on campuses, he had said last year.

Mr Shanmugam also commented on a recent survey by market research firm Ipsos and gender equality organisation Association of Women for Action and Research, which found that two out of five workers, including men, had faced sexual harassment.

Noting that such behaviour was absolutely unacceptable, he said most victims were not willing to come forward, and more needed to be done to encourage them to report such incidents so that investigations could be carried out.

He said: "We need to try and deal with that - how we can encourage, so that people report. And, once the report is done, taking action thereafter is easier.

"I think a whole of society mindset change is necessary. The Government has got to lead it with the right pieces of legislation."

Besides feedback on sexual offences, how the school curriculum can be tweaked to inculcate the value of respect for women was also a hot topic at the dialogues conducted so far.

Among the 1,000 people who have participated in the conversations organised by non-governmental and grassroots organisations, some 25 per cent were men.

This was cheered by Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling, who is among three political office-holders leading the review.

The other two are Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, and Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam.

Ms Sun, who took part in Saturday's dialogue, organised by the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) and held via video-conferencing, said: "I am happy to see increasing participation from our men. Your views and suggestions are very important, because the aspirations of Singapore women can best be realised when it is a whole of society commitment."

SCWO President Junie Foo said improving the lives of women should not be seen as a zero sum game, with men losing out as a result.

Ms Low Chin Loo from the Financial Women's Association of Singapore, who led one of the discussions, said: "Changjng mindsets about women is not a women's issue. It is a societal issue that involves men.

"We need men to be part of the mindset shift - to embrace the changing aspirations of younger women as equal economic partners and to facilitate their success in the workplace by sharing in household and caregiving responsibilities. Women's success in the workplace is hugely impacted by their spouse's support at home."

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