Sunday, May 15, 2005

Post No. 14 : The Illusion of Sexual Equality

This world is full of illusions. Some of these illusions are necessary while some are not. Some are beneficial while others are detrimental. Well, here in this post, I am writing to dispel an illusion which I think is neither necessary nor beneficial. An illusion that seems to be quite prevalent in local society. What is this illusion I’m writing about? To put it in simple terms, it is the illusion that sexual equality, between man & woman, have already been achieved in Singapore when it, sadly, have not been achieved yet.

Don’t be mistaken… I don’t deny the progress made on several fronts in the emancipation & empowering of local women. I would have to be blind (or severely visually-impaired… :p) not to see the many instances where local women have moved towards achieving sexual equality with local men. These would undoubtedly include the equal opportunity enjoyed by local women in attaining higher education, access to jobs and the power to vote. In addition, though there are those who may beg to differ, local women now are much more independent and enjoy greater freedom. No longer are they dependent on their husbands or any other male relatives, except perhaps when they are younger in age and need to draw allowance from their fathers. In a nutshell, when compared to their predecessors, local women are now much more fortunate and enjoy greater equality in relation to local males.

Furthermore, one could point to examples in other countries around the world, where the rights of women remain greatly curtailed, to provide support for the notion that sexual equality has already been achieved locally. Such examples would show that, in other countries, women are still considered as somewhat inferior to men, abused, exploited and oppressed. They would also show that, in other countries, women are still denied equal access to education & jobs and are politically disenfranchised. In extreme examples, women are not even allowed to drive or are considered as property of their husbands or other male relatives if they are unmarried. (Please note that I’m not passing judgment on these countries where women’s rights remain greatly curtailed, I’m just using them as examples to contrast with the local situation.) Thus, in comparison with countries where sexual equality remains an alien concept, it would seem that sexual equality has already been achieved in Singapore.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that much progress have been made in the advancement of women’s rights and female empowerment in Singapore. One could point to the number of successful local women who have attained high positions in domains that were once considered exclusive to males, specifically the political arena and corporate sector. For the latter, one could name-drop the names of Ms. Ho Ching, CEO & Executive Director of Temasek Holdings, Ms. Claire Chang, Executive Director of the Banyan Tree Gallery (Singapore) Private Limited (note that she have made a successful foray into the political arena as an NMP several years back) and Ms Elim Chew, founder & Managing Director of 77th Street. And for the former, one could point to Ms. Sylvia Lim, Chairwoman of the Workers’ Party, Dr, Amy Khor, MP and Mayor of Southwest CDC, Mrs. Sharon Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, Minister of State for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports, Ms. Indranee Rajah, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC (and holding her own as a competent practicing lawyer) and Miss Eunice Olsen, newly-appointed NMP. Looking at the above list of successful women, it would seem that sexual equality is already a fact in Singapore, wouldn’t it?

However, I would humbly put forward the idea that though much have been achieved in terms of sexual equality in Singapore, much more can & should still be done before it can be truly claimed that sexual equality have been achieved in Singapore. Why do I say this? For starters, it can be seen that successful women in top positions are exceptions rather than the norm in Singapore. For instance, in the corporate sector, the number of local female company directors is still greatly outnumbered by the number of male company directors. In fact, in 2003, only just over 6% of all company directors in Singapore were women. This is in contrast to the situation in the United States where that figure reached 60% for the largest 1000 companies. (I got these figures from the March 6th news article by Ms. Ong Soh Chin entitled: “Is Feminism Still Relevant?”). To add on, I would like to point out that when Ms. Ho Ching was first appointed to her current position, it was alluded that she got it through her being the wife of then-DPM (and now PM) Lee Hsien Loong and daughter-in-law of then-SM (and now MM) Lee Kuan Yew and not purely through her own merit and capability. Though it may have been already demonstrated that there was no truth behind such an allusion, it can be clearly seen that there are those in Singapore who sill think that women in top positions got there through their connections with prominent husbands or male relatives. Doesn’t say much for sexual equality in local society if such a mindset still exists, does it?

In addition, although we have 10 female MPs and 2 female ministers of state in the current Parliament and Cabinet respectively, there remains yet the situation where there is no full female minister. I would also like to point out that the 2 female ministers of state are placed in what are traditionally perceived as “lightweight” ministries and that it would be long time before Singapore would have a female Prime Minister (looking at the current situation). Furthermore, it would seem that many young women in Singapore do not yet aspire to a career in politics as it is still perceived as an exclusive domain of males (however, I must clarify that such political disinterest is not prevalent only among local young women but it is perhaps part of a general phenomenon affecting local youth). Thus, considering that females make up almost half (if not more) of the local population, it seems that they are still grossly underrepresented in local politics. Doesn’t bode well for sexual equality in Singapore, does it?

Furthermore, though this may be a misperception on my part but it would seems to me that local females are taking the current rights and status that they enjoy for granted. It would not be inaccurate to say that they have little knowledge of the struggle that their predecessors have to endure to achieve the rights that they enjoy now. Also, it would not be false claim that they know little and care even less about the ongoing effort to continue furthering women’s rights/sexual equality in Singapore. This is such an impression that I have gotten through my female friends (no offence to them, of course but I hereby apologise for any offence taken). Before you all (here, I’m referring to the female readers of my blog, if there are any) start rebuking me, think seriously about what I have just written in this paragraph and search your feelings, am I really totally wrong in my observations? Allow me one question: do you all know about AWARE, what it campaigns for or even what is its full name (I do, it’s Association of Women for Action and Research)? Hence, considering that there lacks a receptive and supportive audience group, it would seem that local efforts to further women’s rights/sexual equality would not make much headway yet…

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my main argument that though much has been achieved, much more can & should still be done to achieve sexual equality in Singapore. And as a parting statement, I would like to quote 2 lines from John Lennon’s “Woman Is The Nigger of The World” (refer to Post No. 14a for the entire song): ‘Woman is the nigger of the world/ Think about it… do something about it”…

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