Equality advocates welcome Government plan to review gender issues as timely
She remembers how difficult it was to even broach the subject in 2011 when she launched BoardAgender, an initiative to get more women into boardrooms and senior leadership positions.
"No one at the time wanted to talk to me about that," said Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) president Junie Foo. "People thought I was a 'stirrer'."
Nine years later, Singapore is set to have a national conversation about gender equality that women's rights advocates say has been a long time coming.
Yesterday, the Government announced plans to embark on a thorough review of issues affecting women.
Ms Foo, who was a facilitator at a virtual dialogue session yesterday, the first of a series of upcoming engagement sessions as part of the review, said the move is a timely one and a significant milestone.
"Maybe it could have been done earlier, but I think the momentum has accelerated over the last one or two years, with more people being vocal and wanting to see some change," she said.
Ms Corinna Lim, executive director at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), is happy that gender issues are getting concerted national attention this year, which also happens to be Aware's 35th anniversary.
Calling for the Government to consider explicitly enshrining gender equality in the Constitution, she said: "What is most exciting to Aware is the stated approach to review the underlying values and cultural mindset towards women and gender equality, instead of looking only at issues in the short term."
Ms Lim said the review should take an intersectional approach and it is crucial that it addresses the most pressing issues facing women now, including societal expectation that women be the primary caregivers, workplace discrimination, and the widespread acceptance of the sexual objectification of women.
Ms Foo said gender equality cuts both ways and there is also a need to fight the stigma against men who buck traditional male stereotypes, such as those who earn less than their spouses or are the primary caregivers.
NOT MALE VS FEMALE
She added: "It is not male versus female. I don't see it as a zero sum game. We should continue to involve men in this because they are part of the equation and part of the solution."
Mr Khairul Hilmi Mohd Khair, 32, who works at an engineering consulting company, was also a facilitator at the dialogue. A registered psychologist and Youth Corps Singapore advisory committee member, he said the conversation about gender equality is long overdue.
"I worked in social services previously and I do see the gender discrepancies," he said.
"Being (from) a minority myself, there are also some issues I can resonate with."
While he understands how daunting it can be for those in the community to effect change on a large scale, he says small actions go a long way.
"For example, when you are out with friends, if one of them says something inappropriate to the opposite gender, is there someone in the group who has the moral courage to call it out? If you can slowly influence your friends, our social circles, our families, that is a start," he said.
"Policies can only do so much. If it is not accompanied by a mindset shift, we will be back at square one."