Singapore to conduct review of women's issues to change mindsets on equality

Ideas, suggestions to form basis of White Paper to be tabled in Parliament next year

The review will seek to instil gender equality as a fundamental value that is internalised by boys and girls from a young age. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

A comprehensive review of issues affecting women is being undertaken, with the aim of bringing about a cultural and mindset change on values such as gender equality and respect for women.

Sparked in part by incidents of voyeurism on campuses, the review will seek to instil gender equality as a fundamental value that is internalised by boys and girls from a young age, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam at a dialogue yesterday.

It will be led by Minister of State for Social and Family Development as well as Education Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth as well as Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, and Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam.

The dialogue, titled Conversations on Women's Development, opened a series of upcoming sessions with stakeholders, including women's and youth groups, to collect feedback and recommendations.

The ideas and suggestions gathered through this process will form the basis of a White Paper to be tabled in Parliament in the first half of next year, Mr Shanmugam said.

Speaking to an audience of about 60 participants, the minister added: "The White Paper will aim to address women-related issues that Singaporeans are concerned with. It will aim to be a further road map for progress, a pathway towards greater gender equality."

He said women in Singapore have made strides in areas like the workforce, politics and education, but there needs to be a cultural and mindset change in society towards gender equality and respect for women. Issues like sexual violence, voyeurism, and differential treatment in the office based on gender should, he added, be considered "a deep violation of fundamental values".

The review, Mr Shanmugam said, will be broadly categorised to address the sort of changes in mindset needed and how to develop them from a young age. It will tackle issues in the home, such as protecting women from being victims of violence from family members and intimate partners.

It will also try to better recognise the indispensable roles women play as wives, mothers, caregivers and homemakers, he added.

It will examine the way women are viewed in school and the workplace, and tackle the need for equal opportunities and protection from sexual harassment, assault and workplace discrimination, he said.

Additionally, it will look at issues in the community, like gender stereotyping and how women are addressed in the manner of speech or ways of thinking, he added.

Mr Shanmugam said a spate of recent offences against women in the news, including instances of voyeurism and violence, had set him thinking about whether there is a more philosophical and fundamental way of thinking about gender equality.

Speaking during the round-up of the session, Ms Sun said: "When we say women have choices, are they real choices?

"Are they able to fulfil their potential, be the best that they can be, in an unencumbered fashion that does not require them to settle for second best?"

Said Ms Rahayu: "Covid-19 has brought to the forefront a slew of issues that women have been facing for years, such as bearing the main caregiving responsibilities in the household, and being held to different standards at the workplace.

"These are issues that our mothers, daughters and sisters are facing on a daily basis. There may be progress on some fronts but we need everyone to chip in on the way forward for women in Singapore."

Ms Low said: "With collective action, we can close the doors of disparity and continue to widen the stride for Singapore women.

"As we allow ourselves to challenge old attitudes and current stereotypes, we will dislodge practices that hinder women's development and free up our society for greater progress."

Mr Shanmugam said the outcome of the dialogues would not just be a White Paper with recommendations. "It has got to be a clear message to every young girl today, and in the future, that Singapore will always be a place where they can achieve their fullest potential, fulfil their hopes and fulfil their dreams."

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2020, with the headline Singapore to conduct review of women's issues to change mindsets on equality. Subscribe