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Singapore Government

Speech By Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister For Social And Family Development And Second Minister For Health, Minister-In-Charge Of Muslim Affairs On The White Paper On Singapore Women's Development

Speech By Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister For Social And Family Development And Second Minister For Health, Minister-In-Charge Of Muslim Affairs On The White Paper On Singapore Women's Development

Towards A Fairer and More Inclusive Society


Mr Speaker,

1.         It is with great honour that I speak in support of the Motion to advance the progress of Singapore women.

I.          OUR COMMITMENT TO ADVANCE WOMEN’S DEVELOPMENT

2.         Since independence, Singapore women have made tremendous progress.

3.         Minister Josephine shared about the many remarkable Singaporean women who have laid the foundations of our society.

a.         Allow me to share about one woman who has made great impact to social work development.

b.         Across the island, MSF provides a key line of social support in our local communities. Enabling families to bounce back – achieving stability, self-reliance, and social mobility. This is through a network of 48 Family Service Centres (FSCs).

c.        This all started with Ms Thung Syn Neo. She was a pioneering social worker, a giant in the profession. Syn Neo spearheaded the formation of the very first FSC in 1978, under the then-Ministry of Social Affairs.

4.         Mr Speaker, the tremendous progress made by our women that we see today did not occur by chance.

a.         This was the outcome of the Government’s intentional efforts to steward the progress of Singaporean women. Decade after decade.

b.         Because we believe in a fairer and more inclusive society, where men and women, are equal, valued members of our society.

c.         My Ministry, and the many Ministers that came before me, have been at the forefront of this endeavour. We have led the charge, legislatively, and through our policies and programmes. Nudging at times. And earth shaking at times.

d.         I was proud to share how far we have come at the G20 Ministerial Conference on Women’s Empowerment in Italy last year. Developing countries had problems providing access to education for their girls, and developed countries complained how their girls were stereotyped to be educated for roles like teaching and nursing, and few were in STEM. When I shared that in Singapore, less than 1% of our children did not complete 10 years of education, and that our girls were free to choose their own education pathways, including STEM, the room fell silent – I think in disbelief that we have achieved both this.

5.         But, we should now move from quantitative achievements to one where the quality of development is our focus. Which is why we launched the year-long, nationwide Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development.

a.         We pressed ahead, even amid the pandemic, and organised 160 Conversations.

b.         Nearly 6,000 participants, representing wide segments of society, responded to the call, and joined us. Sharing with us their hopes and aspirations for our women.

c.         I was also glad to see many men participating in the Conversations, some of whom are in the Gallery today. Because in the next lap, we can only achieve this goal if we work together. Men and women. A whole-of-society approach.

d.         One of whom said, and I quote, “Men and women both play a part in shaping the society. If we all start to do the right things, the future generation will not have to go through what we went through. We should start now while we still can.” Unquote.

e.         This is one of the big conclusions of the Conversations: the collective responsibility that we, as a society, including we, men, must play, if we want to advance our women’s progress.

II.         CATALYSING MINDSET SHIFTS

6.         We must begin with challenging mindsets.

a.         This means forging new societal norms. One that is based on respect and partnership.

b.         Because only then can we progress further. To truly empower both men and women to pursue their aspirations freely and fully.

c.         This requires collective commitment. Individuals and families. People, private and public sectors. All segments of society to step up and walk the talk.

7.         In this respect, I believe that we men can make a difference, for our women and in the process for ourselves. Thus my appeal to all men.

a.         We can step up.

b.         We can do more, and we should.

c.         Be role models, not only in word, but also in deeds.

8.         Because we must believe in equal partnership between men and women, with respect as its cornerstone.

a .         I want to state very clearly that this is not a zero-sum game. From time to time, such beliefs or misperceptions come up, whenever we talk about advancing women’s progress. That is simply not our way.

b.          Our approach is not about asserting the rights of one over the other.

c.          As men, we have a big part to play to encourage equal partnership.

d .         In our homes, 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.

e.          Our children are social learners of the world. Watching our every attitude, word, and action. They model after us and assimilate perceived social roles.

f.          More tangibly, we can play a much bigger role in sharing the weight of caregiving. We need to pitch in more. Some have and many more can. Because in a partnership, we can build on each other’s strengths, and be better together, for our children and generations to come.

g.          I echo what Bryan Tan, who leads the Centre for Fathering, wrote in a recent commentary that says, and I quote “Fathers are not ‘substitute mothers’” and that “marriage is an equal partnership” unquote.

9.         Allow me to also share Saiful’s story.

a.         We have cited it in our White Paper, but I thought it’s worth reiterating.

b.         Seven years ago, Saiful left his job in the creative industry to be a stay-home dad and the need arose because they have a young child in the family. While Saiful’s wife continued to work, she was always there supporting him. Her presence enabled him to overcome the challenges that he faced.

c.         Saiful’s story is inspiring for two reasons. First of all, not only did he challenge the traditional gender expectations and norms. Second, it shows us that when men and women partner together, we become better as one.

10.        We honour and respect our women because it is the right and moral thing to do.

a.         And this is not something new or just a feature of modern society.

b.         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.

c.         We can identify this in an Asian society like ours. Culturally or religiously.

11.        The Chinese, know the devotion of Mencius’ Mother.

a.         How she single-handedly raised Mencius, after her husband passed away.

b.         And Mencius’ deep honour and respect that he carried for his mother.

c.         One account described the great length and extent that he went to bury his mother and to mourn for her when she passed away. When asked, he said “that the devotion that one owes one’s mother should be expressed fittingly at all times, and certainly through her funeral and mourning rites”.

12.        From the Ramayana, the Indians cherish Rama who was banished for 14 years to live in the forest by his mother Kaikeyi to make way for his half-brother, Baratha, to become the king. And he dutifully left the city in obedience to his mother.

13.        Malay-Muslims take lessons from Islam. When the Prophet was asked who a person should honour the most, or give the best treatment to, he replied, “his mother”. And when asked again, “then who?”, he said again, “his mother”, and again the third time. Only at the fourth time did the Prophet say, “his father”.

14.        In honouring our mothers, it shows we are also taught to cherish and honour our wives, sisters, daughters. It is why we honour our Singapore women.

a.         As families, as a society, and as a nation. We are stronger when our women, every woman, can flourish and realise their aspirations and their potential.

b.         Thus, we must be part of the solution.

III.         BUILDING ON OUR PARTNERSHIPS IN WORKPLACES, HOMES AND COMMUNITY

15.        And we will build upon this as a society. In workplaces, at homes, and in our community.

16.        At workplaces,

a.         Our women contribute to a diversity of values, perspectives and capabilities.

b.         Having more women in leadership roles helps to catalyse robust governance and better stewardship of organisations.

c.         I am glad that women’s participation on Singapore boards is almost 20% at Top 100 listed companies, and reaching 30% at statutory boards and Top 100 IPCs today.

d.         MSF will continue a multi-stakeholder approach that empowers stakeholders to collectively address underlying root causes. For instance, the Council for Board Diversity raises public awareness of the importance of women on boards and works with corporates to develop a pipeline of board-ready women. This would be more effective than setting mandatory quotas, which does not address root causes of the issue, that have to do with culture and traditions.

17.        Over the years, we have also greatly increased support for our caregivers.

a.         In Singapore, strong families form the bedrock of our society. They are a key pillar of strength and our first line of support, providing unconditional love and support, through the ups and downs of life, such as that of our caregivers.

b.         Their role is irreplaceable. But there will be those who need more support, beyond that from one another. We recognise their contributions to our families and society, and will support them.

c.         Parl Sec Rahayu will elaborate more, including the enhanced Home Caregiving Grant that would better help with caregiving costs.

d.         Through the enhanced Silver Support Scheme and the Matched Retirement Savings Scheme, we have also boosted the retirement incomes of Singaporeans, including caregivers, who may not have a chance to earn higher incomes during their working years.

e.         We have also made major moves to make quality preschools more accessible and affordable for families to enable working parents, especially mothers, to pursue their career aspirations with peace of mind. By around 2025, 8 in 10 Singaporean children can have a place in a government-supported preschool.

f.          These are just some of the many government-led initiatives to support caregivers and their families.

19.        I would also like to add that even as our society progresses, there are still persons who experience violence.

a.         Let me state this categorically that all forms of violence cannot and will not be condoned in our society.

b.         Protecting women from violence and harm requires partnership across all spheres of society, between men and women.

c.         Minister Shanmugam and MOS Sun Xueling will elaborate more on this.

20.        Finally, it is timely and apt to consider a meaningful way to reflect the enduring importance of Singapore women’s development in our society.

a.         At the closing session of the Conversations, PM had announced that the Government had taken on board a proposal from the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) and will dedicate a public garden to honour, celebrate and recognise the contributions of Singapore women.

b.         I am pleased to announce that we have identified Dhoby Ghaut Green, which is located at the heart of the city, for the garden.

21.        PM will also launch a travelling “Celebrating Singapore Women” exhibition on 22 April.

a.         The roving exhibition will celebrate our journey on women’s development.

b.         It also aims to build awareness and ownership of the Action Plans amongst Singaporeans from various walks of life.

IV.        CLOSING

22.        Mr Speaker, in Malay please.

23.        Di Singapura, kita percaya dengan perkongsian sama rata antara kaum lelaki dan wanita, dengan rasa hormat sebagai nilai asas. Kita memuliakan dan menghormati wanita kerana ia adalah perkara yang betul dan bermoral. Ia adalah sebahagian daripada nilai-nilai budaya kita, kerana kita telah diajar sejak kecil untuk menyanjungi, mencintai dan menghormati wanita yang paling penting dalam hidup kita – ibu kita. Masyarakat Islam mengambil pengajaran daripada agama kita. Sebagaimana kita memuliakan ibu kita, kita juga diajar untuk menghargai dan menghormati isteri, kakak, adik dan anak perempuan kita.

24.        Sebagai kaum lelaki, kita boleh dan harus melakukan lebih banyak lagi untuk menyokong kaum wanita Singapura. Misalnya, kita boleh memainkan peranan aktif dalam penjagaan anak dan orang tua. Kita juga harus menyokong kaum wanita dalam mengejar aspirasi mereka di tempat kerja dan dalam masyarakat. Sebagai keluarga, masyarakat, dan negara, kita lebih kukuh apabila kaum wanita kita, berpeluang untuk maju dan mengembangkan potensi mereka.

25.        To conclude, the White Paper is just the start of a decade of work.

a.         There will be many more conversations and action plans to come.

b.         It is a decade-long plan of action and commitment by MSF, the Government, and key partners, which we will carry to fruition.

c.         We will build a culture of respect and partnership, between men and women, and across all spheres of society.

d.         This is what will take us forward for our next bound.

26.        I would like to extend our sincere invitation to all Members, including those from the Opposition, to come join us in our endeavour to advance Singapore women’s development. Towards a fairer and more inclusive society.

27.        Thank you

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