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Deep mindset change needed to improve gender equality in Singapore, says Minister Shanmugam

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Minister Shanmugam launches 'Conversations on Women Development' to identify issues affecting women in Singapore, which will lead to a White Paper to be presented in Parliament.

From October this year, the Government will be organising a series of conversations engaging non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and women from all walks of life to discuss women-related issues in Singapore.

This series, titled Conversations on Women Development was launched by Minister Shanmugam on Sep 20.

The feedback and recommendations from these conversations will culminate in a White Paper that will be submitted to Parliament in the first half of next year. 

Gender equality and respect as a fundamental value in Singapore society 

Despite the progress that women have made in education, work and politics in Singapore, there remains cultural, social, structural hurdles that women have to deal with, said Minister Shanmugam in his opening speech at the first of these engagement sessions. 

He added that for Singapore to move past these hurdles, the idea of gender equality has to be "deeply imprinted into our collective consciousness". 

"Gender equality is going to take a lot of effort, but I believe we can do it. It is going to require a change in our cultural value system," said Mr Shanmugam. 

Penalties on sexual offences 

Mr Shanmugam said that when gender equality is internalised, "society's whole outlook on a variety of gender issues are much easier to change." 

He highlighted the recent cases of voyeurism and sexual assault, and said that with a change in mindsets, such offences will be viewed much more seriously in court. 

He said: "That means the usual mitigating factors will have less force when they are viewed in the light of an act that is a breach of fundamental values. 

"The starting point should be that this should not have happened. No excuses, period. Excuses that a person is young, he is in University and so on, should be of less weight." 

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Minister Shanmugam also mentioned that although sexual offences are viewed seriously in Singapore, there needs to be a wider mindset shift so that such acts are not committed in the first place.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/SHANI YONG 

Mr Shanmugam hopes that these conversations will help to inform our values in society, which will then be reflected in reviewing what kinds of penalties and mitigating factors will be given weight when dealing with sexual offences. 

Review to cover issues that women face at work, home and school

The review will be led by Ministers of State Sun Xueling and Low Yen Ling, as well as Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam. 

The review will look into how to better protect women from family violence, intimate partner violence and to recognise the roles played by women at home. 

Ms Sun shared that the government will proactively reach out to homemakers and caregivers in subsequent conversations to include their perspectives for the review. 

The review will also look into how to protect women from sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and equality of opportunities. 

Ms Low said: "Through these discussions, we can formulate ways to examine and improve the playing field for women – be it from the world of business, workplace or community, to the arenas of the arts, culture and sports." 

The first of these conversations included over 60 participants from youth groups and women organisations. Topics brought up during this session included sex education in schools as well as support networks available to women in Singapore. 

In his concluding remarks, Mr Shanmugam stressed that "a society which does not recognise the equal position of women, is a society which can never live up to its potential. Even more so in Singapore, where people are our only assets.  

"The outcome of this process is not just a White Paper with recommendations, but 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." 

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: NATASHA KASIM VIA UNSPLASH

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