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The Review: Level the Playing Field for Women in Singapore

The Review

Headed by Sun Xueling (Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development), Low Yenling (Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth and Trade and Industry), and Rahayu Mahzam (Parliamentary Secretary for Health), a comprehensive review is conducted regarding gender equality with the focus on women’s rights. 

This review will be part of a White Paper that is intended to address women-related issues in Singapore in the effort for continuous progress and greater gender equality in society. 

Topics covered

The review will address the mindset of gender equality, to imbibe values of respect in children from young, issues at home such as family and partner violence, as well as the roles of women in the household. This includes the need to define the responsibilities of caregiving for women. 

The review also looks at sexual violence, voyeurism, and the differential treatment of genders in the workplace. In addition, the insidious issue of discrimination and sexual objectification of women with the imperative need for protection from sexual harrassment and assault will be discussed. 

The skewed punishment

A series of sexual misconduct incidents in local universities have made its way to the news. One of which refers to a dentistry student in National University of Singapore who had assaulted his former girlfriend by trespassing her house. Sparking public ire regarding the light sentence of a 12-day short detention order, reporting order, and community service, many had signed online petitions requesting for a heavier punishment. 

PAP Women’s Wing and PAP Women Members of Parliament have also shared their concerns regarding the light penalty for the student’s offence that includes strangling his former girlfriend and causing vision impairment. In conjunction to the sentiment,  the Association of Women for Action and Research, AWARE has highlighted that such sentence has a detrimental impact — it will form a perception of violence against women that offenders are able to get off lightly, and the difficult and traumatising process of reporting a crime is futile.  

Moreover, the light penalty of the dentistry student’s crime in relation to his “bright future” citing his academia grade is a call for concern. It is pertinent to stress that a person’s education and achievements should not play a part in mitigating punishments for sexual crimes. 

The leap taken

The continuous efforts made have seen its bud blooming, however slowly. For instance,  companies in Singapore have now embraced diversity in its hiring practices, with an increment of women holding key management roles. The pay gap between genders has also narrowed over the years. Furthermore, statistics have shown that in Singapore, 29% of the Parliament are women as compared to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s world average of 24.5%. 

There are changes being made to the Penal Code with the purpose of protecting the vulnerable, women and children, especially with the distressing increase of voyeurism cases. As part of the Criminal Law Reform Bill, the new category of sexual offences now includes the distribution, creation, and possession of voyeuristic recordings, intimate images as well as “cyber flashing” that is the dissemination of unsolicited genital images. Notably, Penal Code has now repealed marital immunity for rape that deems to protect all women from sexual abuse. 

The future

While there are stiffer penalties for offences against women now, K. Shanmugam (Minister for Home Affairs and Law) has stated succinctly, “The starting point should be that this should not have happened. No excuses, period.” Indeed, there’s a need for fundamental change to the treatment of women in society; hopefully, the advent of technology will significantly assist in raising such awareness.

“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, fulfil their hopes and fulfil their dreams.” As quoted by K. Shanmugam, everyone deserves to be safe and excel in a place where they call home.  

Ultimately, the deep-rooted mindset and the traditional perverse belief of the male’s dominant position in society have to change. Optimistically, a new legislation and policies will be implemented for a safer, better, and fairer world. 

As quoted from Singapore Paralympian, the swimming legend Theresa Goh’s thoughts on positive change: “Be aware in your desire to be a better human being on this earth, this mortal plane, while we are all here. Be aware and be better.”

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