Uplifting our women for the progress of all

Ms Lynn Er, Honorary Treasurer of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) board and Advisor for the Young Women’s Leadership Connection, participant in an SCWO-led Conversation.

Ms Pravita Nandan, Young NTUC Committee member and union leader for the National Transport Workers Union participated at a “Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development” led by NTUC.

From a single mother’s struggles to juggle work and family commitments to a working mum’s concern over workplace sexism, the challenges Singapore women face are diverse and multi-faceted.

Since September 2020, the government and community partners have held the “Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development” sessions to gather feedback on issues concerning women in the home, workplaces, schools and community.

These Conversations build on the significant progress made by Singapore women, with community and Government support, since our Independence.

For example, policies have been enhanced to better support shared parental responsibility at home, through shared parental leave, paternity leave and paid childcare leave. Policies have also been implemented to support women in the workplace, including flexible work arrangements and the establishment of the Council for Board Diversity, which promotes greater participation of women on the boards of companies, statutory boards and Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs).

The conversations will culminate in a White Paper containing recommendations for further progress towards greater equality between men and women, along with an implementation roadmap. Eleven dialogue sessions involving both men and women participants have been held so far, with many more to come. The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO)’s first Conversation with women leaders covered issues across the home, workplaces, schools and community, while NTUC’s session with union leaders and zoomed in on issues women face at the workplace.

Group photo of the first “Conversation on Singapore Women’s Development” by SCWO with Minister of State Sun Xueling
Group photo of the NTUC dialogue session with union leaders, NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and Minister of State Low Yen Ling

One issue raised at the SCWO session was the needs of single women. Reflecting on this after the session, Ms Lynn Er, honorary treasurer on the SCWO Board and an advisor for the Young Women’s Leadership Connection, said that while the rights of women have collectively advanced, single and unwed parents might have less time and resources to raise their children.

More support networks and caregiving arrangements should be made available to them, whether they decide to work or stay at home, she says. “Giving them the right resources and support means that they are not confined to only one option.”

Family violence was another issue discussed. Lynn noted an increase in reports of abuse globally during the COVID-19 pandemic. MSF also saw an increase in the average number of monthly enquiries to its Adult and Child Protective Services, although the number of cases investigated have remained stable. 

Concerns over the harassment of women at workplaces also came up during the dialogue led by NTUC on 12 November.

Ms Pravita D/O Nithiah Nandan, a Young NTUC Committee member and a union leader for the National Transport Workers Union, said ”friends, union members and relatives have shared their personal experiences of workplace harassment [to me]”, noting that female blue-collar workers in male-dominated industries were particularly vulnerable.

When it comes to supporting women in the workplace, Pravita also hopes to see better representation of women in leadership positions. Companies should acknowledge the contributions of women in the workplace, and enroll them in relevant leadership courses such as those organised by NTUC, she says. “This will build their confidence and equip them to attain higher positions in their organisations.”

While there has been significant progress made over the years by women in Singapore, over 100 Conversations will continue into 2021 to further the progress of our women. If you have a story to tell or ideas on how we can address the challenges and mindset changes needed for a more equal society, sign up here.

Changing lives with a PoP

After an enviable medical and corporate career, Dr Rajeshree Nimish Parekh has dedicated her life to empowering women. Her method of choice: empowering women through the intricacies of beading and braiding.

Bracelet-making involves a rhythm. “Left, right, in, out, again and again,” says Dr Parekh, affectionately known as Gina by her colleagues, who has found the looping of strings into knots to be a “soothing influence”. Since turning this hobby into a charitable enterprise, she has introduced other women to its joys—and its empowering effects.

As part of her PoPstrings Project, residents at the Star Shelter bond through learning to make bracelets. PoP stand for “Power of Positivity”. For these survivors of domestic violence, braiding and beading are a means of earning supplementary income when the finished products are eventually sold.

Before turning her hands to beads and threads, Dr Parekh had applied her dexterity to surgery.

In India, where she was born, Dr Parekh was the chief operating officer and medical director at UnitedHealthcare India. She was also consulting and working for various companies from her time in India to Singapore. The corporate world, though, left her with the nagging feeling that “there was something missing in my life”.

She took a break from work and started braiding as a hobby. Along the way, she would gift family and friends her creations.

 Her bracelet-making hobby would evolve after a chance meeting with mutual acquaintances at a wedding in Kenya. One was a Star Shelter employee. They chatted and met up with fellow women at the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), which founded the shelter in 1999. At that meeting, Dr Parekh offered her medical skills. To her surprise, SCWO was most drawn to her PoPstrings Project.

Dr Gina-1746

When asked what empowerment means to her, she says it is a level playing field for everyone, and the ability to express yourself. “It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that women must have corporate careers or be at the workplace. Empowerment can even be having equal footing in the home environment, where you are respected for who you are and your opinion is valued.”

Looking back at her career, Dr Parekh recalls often being the only woman at meetings between senior leaders. With PoPstrings however, she is intent on keeping the project as inclusive as possible.

Residents sometimes will bring their children along for braiding classes. When a resident’s nine-year-old son asked if he could learn how to braid, Dr Parekh’s answer was obvious.

“I said ‘sure’. I’m not setting gender stereotypes here.”

 

Mrs Laura Hwang at ASEAN Forum on Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment

Building resilience and harnessing innovation to support women’s economic empowerment

The following speech is from Singapore Government Representative for Women’s Rights on the ACWC, Mrs Laura Hwang’s opening address at the ASEAN Forum on Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment on 27 Aug 2018. The Forum is co-organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, under the ambit of the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).


I am happy to see many familiar faces. It is my honour to welcome all of you in the presence of Singapore’s first female President, Madam Halimah Yacob.

ASEAN’s Commitment

A key principle in the ASEAN Charter our commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. To articulate this, ASEAN has two bodies: the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights – AICHR, and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children – the ACWC.

These two bodies work closely to promote and protect the rights of the people of ASEAN, especially its women and children, whom we see as more vulnerable and needing more protection. Singapore’s contribution to this has included the joint organisation between AICHR and ACWC last year of a Workshop on the rights of children and the Forum today on the economic empowerment of women.

This Forum aims to bring together prominent women business leaders, young female entrepreneurs, and change-makers to share their experiences, discuss ways to empower more women in ASEAN and to inspire governments.

Building Resilience and Harnessing Innovation

ASEAN is a region of opportunity for its people. To ensure that we provide an enabling environment for all, ASEAN must collectively work towards sustainable change, and prepare us for a new future of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – the VUCA macro-economy which is rapidly taking over the globe.

Hence, this Forum which focuses on women’s economic empowerment is themed “Building Resilience and Harnessing Innovation”. It is opportune to discuss what we need to do to support the economic participation of women. Supporting women to fulfil their aspirations, both in family and career, can undoubtedly bring about progress not just economically, but as a society – to be more equitable and resilient.

Building Resilience

Building resilience is a shared responsibility of multiple parties including governments, the private sector, and importantly the individual. We need to use the talents and abilities of all, and many studies show very clearly that inclusion and diversity are important for greater outcomes.

Society, businesses and governments need to not only advocate that women’s economic participation brings tremendous benefits, but to cascade this down into actions that enable a culture of inclusion and diversity.

The global competition for talent is fierce, and ASEAN needs to ensure that we retain and attract the best. Practices that prevent talent from being part of nation building will only slow down our development.

Harnessing Innovation

We don’t need a crystal ball to look at the future and to see the paramount importance of technology. To effectively harness innovation, we must be able to generate innovative ideas, to keep pace and reap the benefits from new ways of doing business. We now shop, find information, organise and pay across digital platforms. It is critical to promote STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education for girls, as these are the relevant skills in the job markets of today and tomorrow.

With the rise of disruption and globalisation, many traditional jobs held by women are under threat by automation, AI and other technologies. Currently, women remain underrepresented in high growth sectors such as computer science, engineering and management. In Session 1, Empowering female employees at the workplace, we will hear solutions and ideas from speakers from socio-government, entrepreneurial and unionist sectors.

And we are seeing success by innovative women – for example, In Thailand, after noticing a high rate of road accidents due to drink driving, 2 young women started an app for inebriated partygoers to book a chauffeur service for a safe ride home. They have facilitated more than 100,000 rides in the past 4 years – you could say they avoided 100,000 possible accidents!

You will be hearing how one of our young woman leaders is bringing affordable insurance and mobile health services for low-income families, using mobile technology. And there are many examples in other ASEAN Member States too.

Conclusion

By 2030, which I hope all of us here will be around to see! ASEAN has the potential to be the world’s 4th largest economy. As we progress further along the road to being an economic community through the ASEAN Economic Community, we know that half the citizens of ASEAN are women. Their input and their efforts are critical in the successful development of ASEAN.

I look forward to hearing and learning from our speakers and moderators, and from the very distinguished floor. I thank them in advance for how they will be sharing their unique views and expertise and inspiring us.

My special thanks to our President, for gracing the occasion and being the greatest example to us all of women’s leadership. Having had the privilege of working with her during her term as Minister of State in the Ministry of Social and Family Development, her support for women’s empowerment is genuine and heartfelt. President Halimah, you are an inspiration for us all.

Thank you.  Have a wonderful forum.