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  • Writer's pictureThe Convergence

International Women's Day 2021: Reflections on Gender Equality in Singapore

By Leney Ang, Editor

From politics to sports, local female talents have thrived and made their marks in sectors that have been traditionally male-dominated.

Halimah Yacob currently serves as Singapore's first female president [1]. Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek Holdings, has been a constant fixture on the Forbes Power Women, having been featured every year since 2004 [2]. Stefanie Sun is one of Asia's most recognizable musical talents, with over 30 million records sold [3], and Yip Pin Xiu was Singapore's first-ever three-time Paralympic gold medalist [4].

Indeed, women in Singapore, not limited to the few mentioned, have broken various frontiers in different industries. They have accomplished this with their hard work, resilience, and tenacity.

But apart from their individual merits and talents, could such breakthroughs have been possible without the efforts of our pioneers who have advocated for the recognition and rights of women?

In 1952, Shirin Fozdar - then a women’s rights activist - formed The Singapore Council of Women (SCW). The Council marked a turning point for women in Singapore, providing them with a platform to voice their concerns about women’s rights and issues.

From political representation to the liberalisation of educational policies, the SCW had lobbied for legislations to allow women opportunities in multiple domains. The work of the SCW hence provided generous support for women's rights to be enshrined into the constitution. [5]

The enactment of the Women's Charter in 1961 was also a pivotal point for gender equality in Singapore. As a legislative act that sought to protect and advance women and girls' rights, it allowed for greater equality in areas such as the termination of marriages and division of marital assets. It also provided women protection against family violence and enforced penalties for offenses against females. [6]

Yet another important historical actor was Constance Goh, a pioneer in the family planning movement in Singapore. She was the first chairwoman of the Singapore Family Planning Association (SFPA), which taught women about birth control and contraceptives during a time when such topics had not been normalised. [7]

Today, we stand on the shoulders of those before us. Their courage and pursuits in challenging the status quo have benefitted generations of women since. Many women in Singapore have access to a world of opportunities at present, and we remain indebted to their efforts.

However, we should not take gender equality for granted despite the strides we have made in recent decades.

Gender disparities in terms of roles and opportunities continue to persist in contemporary times. In terms of gender roles in the household for instance, the assumption that women should bear the greater burden of responsibilities while men need only play a supporting role, is still prevalent.

Similarly, sexism remains pervasive in the workplace. Gender pay gaps are ever present. In the context of Singapore, women are earning 6% less than their male counterparts of the same title, receiving about S$342 less in median monthly salary. [8]

Such challenges and gender inequalities can only be ameliorated through a paradigm shift in societal mindsets and cultures. This will be extremely difficult to achieve, but fortunately policies have been implemented to help tackle these issues on an institutional level.

Singapore’s first-ever comprehensive review on women’s advancement in society, "Conversations on Women Development," is an example of a government initiative aimed at understanding Singaporeans’ aspirations on how we can further advance our women. It possesses the ultimate goal of cultivating greater respect for women and creating a roadmap towards improved gender equality. [9]

There are also ongoing conversations on-the-ground to create an early shift in mindset through school syllabi. For example, Ms Braema Mathi, Honorary Secretary of human rights NGO Maruah, had mentioned in an interview with Channel News Asia about the importance of imparting students with healthy ideas of gender roles in society. She believes that this should be done by developing critical thinking on the consequences of unequal gender relations [9].

If education and legislation work in tandem to address gender issues in Singapore, more positive changes are very much possible.

Looking at how far we have come, there is still a lot to be hopeful for as a society. The fight for gender equality will be a long-drawn one but it is heartening to see the relentless efforts of many women in continuing to advocate for a more fair and just society.

The generations before us have made their contributions. Now, it is up to us to create a more equitable society for posterity.



Leney is a Year 2 business student who is currently an Editor for The Convergence. She believes in the importance of being in tune with global and local developments. She hopes that her articles would encourage readers to think more critically and allow for greater discourse. During her downtime, she vegges out and goes down a rabbit hole of Youtube videos, from watching conspiracy theories to listening to random podcasts. When the Youtube algorithm gets too crazy, she indulges in reading books. A fanatic collector of books (horder), she has amassed a collection of books, where half are still unread (yikes!).


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