Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC on the Private Members Motion: Aspirations of Singapore Women
Madam, I support the motion.
I am excited and encouraged by the initiative of the PAP Women’s Wing to spearhead a project centred upon the empowerment of women to their fullest potential.
While inroads and improvements in this area are evident, building awareness and continued engagement must persist in order to enable our women to aspire without real or perceived inhibitions.
Leadership – political
On organisational leadership, women remain under-represented. According to the United Nations, although women can vote and run for public office in nearly every country, in 2013, they accounted for only 21 percent of parliamentarians worldwide and serve as Head of State or Head of Government in only twenty-four countries.
In Singapore, we only have 1 woman among 20 full Cabinet Ministers and about 20% of MPs are women.
Japan, a matured democracy like Singapore, has a target of women occupying 30% of the Japanese Parliament by 2020 pursuant to their White Paper on Gender Equality 2011.
Madam, I am supportive of Singapore setting a similar goal. The figure of 30% is not a figure without any basis.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had stated that “Research demonstrates that if women’s participation reaches 30 to 35 per cent, there is a real impact on political style and the content of decisions, and political life is revitalised.”
The General Recommendation essentially emphasises that it is not enough to say there is no formal barrier – active measures should be taken to substantively ensure equal participation.
According to the Diversity Action Committee which was established by the MSF, it is increasingly common for women to be leaders in the boardroom in addition to being a mother, a wife and a daughter.
If the private sector recognises that women are capable enough to take on onerous responsibilities, I believe we should also look out for suitable candidates, and nurture them to take on portfolios in the Cabinet.
That is not to say the private sector is highly exemplary. According to the Diversity Action Committee, due to the perceived shortage of qualified women and preference for qualified directors who are men, progress is hamstrung.
The Committee further observed that Singapore lags behind the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Malaysia in terms of female representation on the board of directors.
Surely, Singapore’s number of qualified women should be similar to these countries given our enviable quality of education coupled with high economic activity for all to participate in and prove their worth.
On this note, I would like to indicate my support for the 20-20 target as announced by Minister Grace. Surely, we can and we have to have at least 20 per cent of female directors on boards by 2020.
Boardroom representation is not the only issue of concern. A few weeks ago, the National University of Singapore released a study showing that female executive directors of Singapore Exchange-listed companies earned just 56.1% of what their male counterparts earned.
Madam, the figure given is disappointing at best. I sincerely hope that businesses examine their remuneration policies and structures, and put forward new remuneration frameworks that better reflect the value that our women provide to the economy.
I strongly encourage businesses and not-for-profit entities, big or small, to be on the look out for capable women, and provide them with opportunities to prove that they are just as good if not better than their male counterparts.
A noteworthy corporate entity is one of Singapore’s biggest law firms, WongPartnership, where 43% of the executive committee is made up of women. Ms. Rachel Eng, joint Managing Partner of WongPartnership said “Our firm did not set a target to achieve gender diversity, yet by creating a culture that recognises and accepts that our talents, including female talents, may need special support during certain period of their lives, we were able to create a conducive culture for our talents to thrive.”
I hope that more corporate entities will create conducive cultures that recognises and accepts all talents regardless of their sex.
Unequal distribution of care
Besides creating a conducive culture at work, I believe the culture set at home and societal mind-set must be reworked too.
It is possible that unequal distribution of care plays a major role in explaining the disparity in representation. According to the MOM, over 265,000 women are out of the labour force due to family responsibilities, versus around 9,000 men.
In studying the Age-Sex Specific Resident Labour Force Participation Rate, Singapore does not have the ‘M’ curve of other developed economies, where women leave the workforce when children are young but return in significant numbers later in life. In Singapore, it is just a decline with time.
Women face barriers to full and equal participation in public life, including employment. The reason might start at home. Between 2012 and 2013, AWARE conducted a survey among 1,322 respondents as part of the We Can! Campaign, which aims to change social attitudes that perpetuate violence against women.
The survey revealed that 52% of the men think women are still expected to be in charge of care-giving and household chores.
Interestingly, the popularity of this view increased to 58% among men aged between 18 and 29. This is worrying and I hope that we can change this mindset. We have to.
Perhaps it is also time for us to review our maternity leave and paternity leave. We might be reinforcing the mindset that women are in charge of care-giving when women receive a significantly higher amount of leave as compared to men.
Changing the landscape
Madam, while big strides could still be made, I believe we should recognise those who are making concerted efforts to positively change the landscape.
In this regard, I wish to highlight the endeavours made by the Young Women’s Leadership Connection that has a variety of programmes to support young women leaders to fulfill their aspirations.
I also note the efforts by AWARE which has constantly sought to support women from all walks of life. I urge businesses and organisations to connect with them, and the Diversity Action Committee to find out how they may assist their women employees.
Finally, I am heartened by the initiative of the PAP Women’s Wing and I stand in full support of their efforts.
A full circle
Madam, my life has really come a full circle. I grew up with my sister Lynette and my two female cousins Gail and Grace.
I grew up with three girls and playtime usually meant barbie time. Well, it was either playing with dolls or playing alone and so playing with dolls it was. Ken, the barbie doll became my best friend.
Fast forward 30 years and playtime now for me is back to playing with dolls with my daughter Ella. And I’m sure when my twins Katie and Poppy become bigger, it’s going to be more dolls. Ken is already on standby in my drawer.
The aspirations of Singapore Women is clearly very important to me on a very personal note. I have three daughters and I hope that they will be able to fulfil their family and career aspirations and to be future-ready.
But beyond these personal reasons, this is important to me quite simply because it is the right thing to do.
Madam I stand in full support of the Motion.