S'pore must not shy away from dealing with daily battles that women face: Josephine Teo

Society must always see the progress of women as a journey without end, said Mrs Josephine Teo. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - To help women advance, Singapore must not shy away from dealing with various daily challenges that they face, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo told Parliament on Tuesday (April 5).

Women face daily battles, she said, such as the battle with time to fulfil multiple roles and responsibilities.

They battle for recognition of the challenges women and girls face, much more than men and boys, she added.

They also "battle with sexual predators who, having been tamed in analogue Singapore, now rear their ugly heads in our digital world", and "battle with social expectations on what work we do, what chores we share, what words we say, and even what clothes we wear".

Lastly, women also "battle within ourselves as to how much of 'us' to give and how much to save for self-care", said Mrs Teo.

She was speaking at the start of the debate on the White Paper on Singapore Women's Development, which was presented to Parliament on March 28.

The document is a 10-year road map to nudge society further towards gender equality that will see greater support for flexible work arrangements, more help for caregivers and swifter intervention in cases of violence.

Mrs Teo said society must always see the progress of women as a journey without end, where every achievement is a foundation to aim for new highs.

"In every generation, we have a duty to find new ways to uplift women. If half of humanity does not progress, how can the rest of humanity?" she said.

The weight of efforts to do so should now lie in further catalysing collective actions, and further promoting equal partnership between women and men, said Mrs Teo.

"In all likelihood, these two lines of effort are the most challenging. Yet they are also where we have the best hope to really move the needle for women."

In her speech at the start of the debate, she acknowledged the significant progress that Singapore women have already made, such as in education and in the workforce.

Women are also now better protected against harms and sexual offences, through the Protection from Harassment Act and Penal Code, and are better recognised for their contributions in the economy, with a narrowing adjusted gender pay gap.

Remote video URL

Caregivers of the elderly and children, the majority of whom are women, are now better supported with available facilities and subsidies, said Mrs Teo.

The White Paper is meant to be a clarion call for everyone to take action, she added, rather than just a comprehensive plan of action by the Government.

She said: "We can put in place legislation on workplace fairness. But the lived experiences of working women depend on the understanding and support of employers and colleagues.

"While many Singapore women are empowered by caregiver support, some will continue to be constrained by cultural preferences held by society and even themselves."

Speaking after Mrs Teo, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli appealed to men to step up and do more to make a difference.

He said: "As fathers, it is our responsibility to teach our sons what it means to respect all women, starting from a young age. Instil in them the right values and be role models ourselves through our actions, for them to grow to be gentlemen."

Men can also play a bigger role in sharing the weight of caregiving, he added.

Mr Masagos said that pushing for equal partnership between men and women is not a zero-sum game.

"From time to time, such beliefs or misperceptions come up. These perceptions come up whenever we talk about advancing women's progress. This is not our way. Our approach is not about asserting the rights of one over another," he said.

He added: "Respecting our fellow women is a natural evolution from our values, because we have been nurtured to honour, love and respect the most important woman of our lives - our mothers."

Mr Masagos also announced that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be launching a travelling exhibition on April 22, titled Celebrating Singapore Women.

The exhibition aims to build awareness and ownership of the action plans from the White Paper among all Singaporeans.

Closing out the debate after 40 MPs had spoken, Mrs Teo said the session had highlighted the core values of equality, partnership and mutual respect that must endure with every step Singapore takes in advancing women’s interest.

“It is now up to us to put our values once again into action,” she said.

She added that at its core, respect means that women should not be exploited, sidelined or stereotyped. Rather, women deserve to be recognised for their contributions, empowered to succeed and respected as equal partners in society.

“More than anything else, this White Paper is about honouring Singapore women, recognising their place in society, and committing to achieve further progress for women,” she said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.