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Opening Address by AP Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim at High Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim

Topic(s): Women Empowerment

Theme Advancing the Inclusion of Women in the Economy
Honourable Chair
Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1. A very good afternoon. On behalf of my delegation, I would like to thank the Government of Chile for organising the APEC Women and the Economy Forum and extend our appreciation for your warm hospitality.

2. Today, we live in an era of rapid technological advancements that will continue to transform the way we live and work. Economies need to keep up with the pace of change by building their workforce capabilities. Amidst the disruptions that the digital age brings, it also brings along bountiful opportunities. I believe that this Forum will spur further action by APEC economies to advance women’s economic empowerment.

3. We believe in the advancement and active participation of our women in Singapore’s development. Singapore remains committed to advancing our women’s economic participation at all levels. Our core principle of meritocracy means that equal opportunities are available to both men and women.

4. Today, we have a healthy employment situation for Singaporean women. Our female employment rate for those aged 25 to 64 has risen from 65% in 2008 to 72% in 2018. We are ranked 7th against 36 OECD countries for women in full-time employment. However, we note that women may still face barriers to remain or re-enter the workforce. Allow me to share Singapore’s experience in promoting an enabling environment for our women to maximise their economic potential.


Equal opportunities and access to education

5. Recognising that education is a key enabler, all Singaporean girls and boys have equal access to quality higher education at highly subsided rates. Today, women made up 48% and 50% of the full-time student enrolment at our polytechnics and universities respectively.

6. Singapore encourages more students to consider careers in STEM. For example, Applied Learning Programmes in STEM enable secondary school students to apply STEM knowledge to address real-world problems and interact with industry professionals. We hope to gradually dismantle gender stereotypes by exposing both girls and boys to STEM careers at a young age.

Empowering women with choices through flexible work arrangements

7. Women play multiple roles in society. Some may face challenges juggling their career and family. Singapore’s approach is to empower women with choices to pursue both family and career aspirations.

8. To do this, we promote more flexible work arrangements (or in short, FWAs) to help women remain in the workforce while balancing family responsibilities. Today, more than 9 in 10 employees work in companies with some form of work flexibility such as telecommuting or job-sharing. We want to do more. Recently, we increased the budget for a grant to incentivise companies to adopt FWAs, from $30 million to $100 million.

Encouraging shared parental responsibilities

9. It is not easy to change cultural norms and gender roles, but Singapore is taking steps to promote a more balanced share of parental responsibilities. For example, fathers can now take up to 8 weeks of leave to care for their new-born children. The take-up of paternity leave has been encouraging, increasing from 37% in 2014 to 53% in 2017. We also work closely with community partners such as Families for Life and Centre for Fathering to encourage active fathering and parenting.

Advancing women’s representation on boards

10. Singapore is also proactively making strides to improve women’s representation on boards. Earlier this year, the Government formed the Council of Board Diversity – with the aim of increasing women representation on boards, not just in the private sectors, but also in the people and public sectors. This is further complemented by ground-up effort such as Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation’s ‘BoardAgender’ initiative. ‘BoardAgender’ advocates for gender-balanced boards through meaningful dialogues.

11. As at June 2019, women held 15.7% of board seats in Singapore’s top 100-listed companies. It is encouraging to see that the percentage of women on boards has doubled since 2014. We have made some headway, but like other economies, there is more that we can do, both at the national level, and as part of the APEC. We wish to learn from other economies such as Malaysia, Australia and United States who have made significant progress in this area.

Concluding Remarks

12. This Forum has shown an impressive report on the progress of women in the various economies. Congratulations to all!

13. Women are described as holding up half the sky, but with the progress of APEC women, we look forward to a new age of flying through the skies, remembering always that a plane requires two wings, women and men to soar together. Thank you.