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Review to tackle issues affecting women in S'pore to kick off in October

SINGAPORE — From October, the Government will partner Singaporeans to review issues affecting women in Singapore through a series of dialogues.

Kicking off the first virtual dialogue on Sept 20, 2020, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said the purpose of this initiative is to shift the Singaporean culture and mindset on gender equality and respect for women.

Kicking off the first virtual dialogue on Sept 20, 2020, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said the purpose of this initiative is to shift the Singaporean culture and mindset on gender equality and respect for women.

  • The review will culminate in a White Paper that will be delivered in Parliament in the first half of 2021
  • Mr Shanmugam said although women have progressed in many areas, cultural, social and structural hurdles remain
  • Laws, penalties and mitigating factors should reflect fundamental values, he added

 

SINGAPORE — From October, the Government will partner Singaporeans to review issues affecting women in Singapore through a series of dialogues.

This review, called the “Conversations on Women Development”, will collate feedback and recommendations, which will culminate in a White Paper that will be delivered in Parliament in the first half of next year.

Kicking off the first virtual dialogue on Sunday (Sept 20), Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said the purpose of this initiative is to shift the Singaporean culture and mindset on gender equality and respect for women.

Although women have progressed in areas such as education, workforce, boards and politics, cultural, social and structural hurdles remain, he said.

In the United Nations Human Development Report last year, Singapore ranked 11th out of 162 countries for gender equality. It also ranked first in the Global Innovation Index this year for the proportion of females employed with advanced degrees.

Adding that more needs to be done to level the playing field, Mr Shanmugam said the idea of gender equality goes beyond matrices of performance in specific fields and must be imprinted into society’s collective consciousness.

“Every boy and girl must grow up imbibing the value of gender equality. They need to be taught from an early age that boys and girls are to be treated equally with respect.

“It has to be a deep mindset change,” said Mr Shanmugam, adding that society’s outlook on gender issues will be easier to change then.

Hence, the White Paper will address all women-related issues that Singaporeans are concerned with and create a roadmap towards gender equality.

Mr Shanmugam said gender equality will require a change in Singaporeans’ cultural and value system. On how it will work, he cited penalties for sexual violence as an example.

"It should not be approached simply as penalising an offence. It must also be seen as penalising a gross violation of fundamental values,” he said.

This means usual mitigating factors will weigh less when they are viewed in light of an act that breaches fundamental values.

“The starting point should be: This should not have happened, no excuses, period. Excuses that a person is young, he is in university and so on should be of less weight.

“For that to be so, the understanding and learning should be deep. It has to be built up and taught from an early age. Society has to put a premium on that.

“Every boy and girl should grow up knowing this is completely unacceptable,” said Mr Shanmugam, adding that laws, penalties and mitigating factors here should reflect these values.

Similarly, for offences against young children, the Government takes a very serious view.

Noting that while young boys are targeted as well, proportionately more girls are victims.

Mr Shanmugam said there are several factors that will have to be looked at, such as children being too fearful to report or evidence that is difficult to rely on which often allows perpetrators to get away scot-free.

He added that while amendments have been made to the Penal Code in 2019 to better protect these children, penalties will be made even stiffer if the review suggests it.

SCOPE OF REVIEW

The dialogue on Sunday looked at issues women face at home, in school or workplace and in the community.

The session was led by Minister of State for Social and Family Development, and Education Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, as well as Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam.

Sixty participants from youth groups and women organisations participated in the discussions on topics such as protecting women from family violence, recognising the integral roles they play at home and promoting equality of opportunities.

This initiative is coordinated by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Public engagement will be led by partner organisations such as the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations.

Mr Shanmugam said the discussions on the spate of recent offences against women in the universities prompted this initiative.

Notably, the recent sentencing of a National University of Singapore dentistry student, who tried to strangle his former girlfriend when she refused to resume their relationship, triggered a public outcry and a review of the penalty framework for violent cases in July.

The 22-year-old was handed a 12-day short-detention order, a five-month day-reporting order, as well as 80 hours of community service because of his relative youth, rehabilitative prospects and lack of previous convictions.

Mr Shanmugam said it raises questions on the relevance of factors in mitigation such as the severity of the offence or defendant’s academic prospects.

While penalties have been made stiffer for a series of offences and new offences such as sexual grooming have also been created, this is the “relatively easier part”, he noted, adding that the discussions have prompted him to explore a “more philosophical and fundamental way of thinking” about the issue.

The dialogue sessions will look at structural issues that affect women and their ability to achieve full potential, said Mr Shanmugam.

For example, working women are often forced to make a choice between work and family — a difficult decision that men seldom have to confront.

“We want women to be presented with real choices, unencumbered by unequal expectations on the roles of men and women in society,” Mr Shanmugam said.

“A society which does not recognise the equal position of women is a society which can never live up to its potential, even more so in Singapore where people are our only assets.”

Related topics

gender equality K Shanmugam women

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