Parliament Debates First White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development

Four Labour Members of Parliament stood in support of the motion and gave suggestions to further improve workplace conditions for women.
By Roshni Bernadette Abayasekara 05 Apr 2022
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A landmark session in Parliament on 5 April 2022 saw Members of Parliament (MPs) debate the first White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development in hopes of improving the careers, employment, and lives of women in Singapore.

The White Paper was first presented to Parliament on 28 March 2022 after the Government launched a nationwide conversation on women’s development in September 2020.

The conversation has taken off to ensure Singaporean women receive greater protection, easy re-entry to the workforce and achieve their full potential in a fairer and more inclusive society through the White Paper.

“Singapore women’s development has reached a very high base” in the Singapore story and now the Government has set its sights to “further elevate the position of women in Singapore” with the Motion, said Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo in her parliamentary address.

She also thanked NTUC, the Women's Integration Network (WIN) Council, Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO), Daughters of Tomorrow and Dads for Life for partnering the Government in empowering women.

Mrs Teo said: “This White Paper reaffirms our shared vision of a fairer and more inclusive society. This will happen only when men and women partner each other as equals in every domain ... Women in Singapore can continue to triumph not through our words, but through our deeds. This is our collective mission. For this reason, I call on everyone to give it our fullest attention and support.”

In Support of the Motion

Four Labour MPs spoke in support of the Motion, all championing the cause of empowering Singaporean women wholeheartedly.

Here are the key takeaways and talking points from their speeches:

 

Credit: Ministry of Communications and Information

NTUC U SME and U Women and Family (WAF) Director Yeo Wan Ling spoke on the importance of a fairer and more inclusive society where women and men, as equal partners, are free to pursue their aspirations to the fullest. To achieve this, she said that career choices for women should be widened by reimagining the current choices available to empower women with viable livelihoods and work prospects. She also highlighted the need to support women returning to the workforce through training and mentoring.

She said that “earlier this year, a survey conducted by the WAF and the PAP Women’s Wing revealed the worrying trends of gender discrimination that women of today face at their workplace.” She also stressed the importance of creating “harassment free workplaces and ensuring that women can feel safe when they go to work.”

She added that she looked forward to the proposals by the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness at the end of 2022.

Credit: Ministry of Communications and Information

NTUC Enterprise Group CEO Seah Kian Peng spoke on women’s equality in the workplace and social norms. To better support women in the workplace, especially in small and medium enterprises that employ 70 per cent of the workforce, he said that more can be done to give female colleagues equal respect as their male counterparts. To work towards changing social norms, he said that society should refrain from openly disrespectful and patronising behaviour towards women that may offend them.

Credit: Ministry of Communications and Information

NTUC Vice-President and Union of Power and Gas Employees General Secretary Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab was heartened by the rise in the female labour force participation rate. The number rose from 57.7 per cent in 2012 to 64.2 per cent in 2020.

On further increasing female participation in the workplace, he called on employers to improve by embracing and practicing flexible work arrangements, providing opportunities for women based on their own merits, as well as extending the duration of maternity leave and protecting those who are on maternity leave more. He went on to highlight the need for real outcomes and improvements on top of advocating for change. 

Credit: Ministry of Communications and Information

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Melvin Yong highlighted the need to provide women with equal opportunities to support their aspirations to have a fulfilling family life and rewarding careers.

He noted the high number of enterprising ‘mumpreneurs’ in his constituency who have started a business in their own living rooms. Mr Yong also urged the Government to introduce grants to defray start-up costs.

Mr Yong also shared the need to help women who are also caregivers to find jobs closer to home. Lastly, he called for more support for millennial women workers through mentorships and to encourage higher participation rate of women in global job opportunities to improve their chances of reaching leadership levels.  

He added that the pandemic had proven that tele-commuting and flexible working hours is a viable option for many women in the workforce. According to Mr Yong, 71 per cent of millennial women aspire to take on a global role. He also stressed that fair employment for pregnant women was key moving forward for Singapore.

White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development

The White Paper addressed equal opportunities in the workplace for women, recognition and support for their role as caregivers, protection against violent harms to females, an overall mindset shift and other measures.

Here is an overview of the White Paper and its key goals:

Goal 1: Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

  • Enhanced and new laws to guarantee fair employment practices, plus ensuring those who report issues in the workplace have their identity protected with no backlash.
  • Measures to ensure employers consider employee flexible work hours in a fair and balanced manner under the New Tripartite guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements by 2024.
  • Career mentorship, networking opportunities and training programmes for women at work and those who are re-joining the workforce after a break from maternity and otherwise.
  • Greater use of parental leave.
  • Increased board and gender diversity to boost women’s representation on boards.

Goal 2: Recognition and Support for Caregivers

  • Improved care options include basic child and elder minding services under the Household Service Schemes.
  • A raise in the home care giving grant from $200 a month to up to $400 per month
  • Educational access to be boosted with affordable and quality pre-school: a child and maternal health strategy will be developed
  • Community based per support networks to be ramped up with greater awareness of caregiver support initiatives
  • Support for caregivers of persons with disabilities and kids with developmental needs

Goal 3: Protection Against Violence and Harm

  • Severe and strict penalties for three sexual offences have been raised. The Attorney Generals Chambers will now object to rehabilitative sentences for adult offenders who commit sexual and hurt offences.
  • Greater protection for victim -survivors of domestic/family violence. This will include a helpline which greater and multiple modes of reporting, including a mobile app.
  • Enhanced awareness of resources on workplace harassment with greater support for victims.

Goal 4: Other Support Measures

  • Greater support for divorcing or divorced women, including better enforcement of maintenance orders. Women will now also be given the option to divorce by mutual agreement following an irretrievably broken-down marriage.
  • Enhanced support of single parents
  • More support for low-income families with kids. These include kicking off child minding services instead of the usual childcare centre operating hours.
  • Elective egg freezing to be permitted in 2023 for women aged 21 – 35 years. However only legally married couples can use this for procreation.

Goal 5: Mindset Shift

  • Women are equal in status to men in marriage and the Women’s charter has been updated to better this change.
  • Education will address gender stereotypes. Character and Citizenship Education curriculum in schools will teach the equal roles of all in families.
  • Develop gender responsive standards under the Singapore Standardisation Programme
  • A Singapore garden will be developed to pioneering the spirit of Singaporean women. Dhoby Ghaut Green has been identified at the location for the planned park development, as announced Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli.