Women in Singapore politics

Chee Siok Chin & Chong Wai Fung

Do women face discrimination in politics in Singapore today? Could they contribute differently than men in the political arena? How are issues viewed, approached and dealth with by women leaders? These were some questions a group of NUS students wanted to know when they interviewed us for a paper they were writing on gender equality in Singapore’s politics.

First, why did we choose the SDP? There are many issues that had to be highlighted and challenged in Singapore’s political system vis-a-vis women participation. Although Siok Chin joined the SDP in 2001 and Wai Fung in 2011, we both joined for the same reasons: We felt that instead of merely griping about the discrimination, we could constructively address the problem and work towards change.

The SDP was our choice since it had been, and still is, the party that is most active in challenging some of the PAP’s ill-considered policies (including those that discriminate against women) and making constructive criticisms. The fact that the ruling party has not appointed a woman as a full minister is telling of the PAP’s attitude towards women political leaders.

Did we face any gender discrimination and are women treated less favourably than our male counterparts in the party? There has never been any form of discrimination against women in the SDP. In fact, women have always been encouraged to play more active roles and take up leadership positions. Wai Fung, together with Ms Jaslyn Go, are tasked with the unenviable responsibility of heading the fund-raising team within the party. In fact, Wai Fung and Jaslyn are the Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer respectively.

And even as the only woman candidate campaigning in the general elections in 2001, Siok Chin was not treated differently. She didn’t feel that she had to prove herself because of her gender. She didn’t feel intimidated by the male-dominated scene even though she was the only female among the opposition candidates then.

What about entering politics, is it more difficult for women than men? Getting into opposition politics in Singapore can be quite a challenging and difficult step to take given the PAP’s authoritarian rule – regardless of whether one is male or female. Neither gender is spared from the ruling party’s machinations. As long as the PAP continues to govern through intimidation, our city-state will not be able to benefit from Singaporeans, men and women, who are genuinely able to contribute in the political sphere.

On the question of women bringing a different perspective to political issues, it is a fact women in general tend to be able to look at issues from different viewpoints and therefore adopt a broader perspective. Women are also more adept at building bridges and nurturing relationships. This important aspect is often overlooked in the political arena here and elsewhere – at great cost to society.

Whether it is intra- or inter-party or even foreign relations, women bring to the table a much needed quality of calm assurance minus the aggressive bluster that some male leaders tend to demonstrate which has resulted in disastrous consequences in the past.

The students wanted to know if we had any regrets getting involved in politics. Our response was a resounding no. In fact, we encourage more women to get involved in politics or political activism as women can bring a unique and important perspective to a political landscape long dominated by men.

There’s no better time to do this than during the commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day.

Chee Siok Chin is Head, Training & Development and Head, Women Democrats.
Chong Wai Fung is Treasurer of the SDP.

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