Review aims to spark mindset change on gender equality
Dialogues on women's issues to collect feedback and ideas for White Paper to be tabled in Parliament
In what was has been hailed by gender equality activists as a long overdue initiative, the Government will conduct a comprehensive review of issues affecting women to effect a "deep mindset change" on how women are perceived and treated in the home, school, workplace and community.
Announcing the review yesterday at a virtual dialogue session - the first of a series of upcoming engagement sessions that will kick off next month - Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said cultural, social and structural hurdles remain for women here.
Noting the need for change in mindsets and the cultural value system, Mr Shanmugam added: "Every boy and girl must grow up imbibing the value of gender equality. They need to be taught from a very early age that boys and girls are to be treated equally and, very importantly, with respect."
He said the recent spate of voyeurism cases in universities here and the community-based sentence of Yin Zi Qin, the dentistry student who tried to strangle his former girlfriend, had got him thinking about whether there was a philosophical way of dealing with gender issues, beyond just increasing penalties.
For example, penalties for sexual violence should not just be seen as penalising an offence but must also be seen as penalising a gross violation of fundamental values, he said.
Said Mr Shanmugam: "The starting point should be that this should not have happened. No excuses, period...
"For that to be so, the understanding, learning, internalisation should be deep. It has to be built up, taught from an early age. Society has to put a premium on that."
The review, which will begin with a series of sessions with stakeholders, including women's and youth groups, to gather feedback and recommendations, will be led by Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling and Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam.
These engagements will culminate in a White Paper that will be tabled in Parliament in the first half of next year.
It will set out the Government's position on gender equality, present policy proposals, and could pave the way for new legislation.
Calling for "substantive" equality, Mr Shanmugam said a society that does not recognise the equal position of women can never live up to its potential. This is even more so in Singapore, where people are the country's only assets.
He said: "The outcome of this process is not just a White Paper with recommendations, but 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."
Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) executive director Corinna Lim yesterday applauded the Government for taking the lead on what she said promises to be a landmark initiative.
"We are excited that this review seeks to make a fundamental shift (and) we agree that achieving this shift is less about enacting relatively easy measures, such as increasing criminal penalties, and more about philosophical and holistic approaches to deeply entrenched challenges."
Former Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong said there is a fierce urgency for gender equality, and the review is a long-overdue step forward in the right direction.
"If we still can't get gender equality for women... then we are truly going to struggle with the inequality challenges in the other segments of our society," she wrote on Facebook.
Speaking to the media after yesterday's dialogue session, Ms Low said the Government will look to engage as widely as possible, and the conversations, which will intensify over the next few months, should not stop.
"Even after the conversations, we all need very determined and, most importantly, collective action from all fronts of society to translate the possible recommendations into fruition," she added.
More than 60 men and women took part in the dialogue, discussing a wide range of topics from flexible work arrangements to domestic violence to the need for better sex education in schools.
Ms Sun said the plan is for 10 to 12 such sessions over the next three months.
"This is not just a women's issue. We also want to involve men in it as well," she said.
"Today's conversation provides a good starting point and also shows us there is a huge road map that awaits us."