TL;DR – White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development lists 25 action plans to urge “more flexible work arrangements to greater protection for victims of domestic violence”.
When it comes to basic human rights, women across the world have come a long way. In Singapore, women too are slowly but surely closing the gender parity. According to the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development, which was published in March 2022:
- literacy rate jumped from 42.6% in 1965 to 96.4% in 2021
- female university graduates went from 33% between the 1960s and 1970s to about 50% since the 1980s
- employment rate jumped from 53% in 1994 to 75% in 2021. Women are also holding more senior positions in companies compared to the past.
However, just because we have come a long way doesn’t mean that we don’t have a long way to go yet — especially at the workplace. Globally, women earn on average just 68% of what men are paid for the exact same work, and just 40% on average in countries with the least gender parity. Women also face unique challenges that most of their male counterparts don’t always understand or have to deal with.
In short, even though we are in a much better place now than ever before, it’s still sometimes hard to be a woman. Here’s why.
Sometimes, you just can’t as a working mother
Speaking of work, being a mother is already one of the toughest jobs in the world. Now imagine being a working mother. The stress begins even before the baby is born, from buying baby products and signing up for pre-school to taking care of your physical and mental health, being a mother is a full-time job on its own.
What makes it that much harder for working mothers is that many of them worry about what happens when they go on their maternity leave. Yes, every pregnant woman in Singapore is entitled to 12–16 weeks of maternity leave. However, many working mothers worry about lagging behind in terms of industry skills and knowledge if they spend a few months away from work. Pregnant mothers looking for a job are also worried that, with their maternity leave coming up, they might not be hired for a specific position.
Sometimes, for women, going to the public bathroom is treacherous
Going to a public bathroom is stressful enough as it is. Cleanliness is not even across all public bathrooms, and people are already doing crazy things to avoid touching things, from squatting on or hovering over toilet seats to wiping seats down with enough toilet paper to choke the sewage pipes. Everybody has a horror story about a public bathroom, which is why it doesn’t help that women — and the victims are mostly women — also have to deal with peeping toms.
Cases involving outrage of modesty have remained relatively unchanged in Singapore since 2013, with 1,480 cases in 2021 compared to 1,325 in 2013. Furthermore, many of these cases happen in public or even office bathrooms. This man followed his female colleague into the office bathroom; this man went a step further and took pictures of his female colleagues in the office bathroom; this other man tried to drug a female colleague with fever tablets — the list, unfortunately goes on. So please, let women do their business in the bathroom in peace.
Sometimes, you just want to find a job without being harassed
Searching for a job is stressful business. Under normal circumstances, we need to worry about what to wear, what to say, what not to say, and if you are the sole breadwinner of the family, the entire family’s livelihood depends on whether you get a job or not. The situation is getting better in Singapore, sure, but Singapore saw some of the lowest employment rates during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now imagine having to deal with all of that stress and being sexually harassed at the same time.
In 2022, managers of a car rental firm were caught sending explicit emails about female job seekers to their company. It is one thing for managers to trade opinions about job seekers and their experience, but it is something else to talk about their physical appearances. Besides, why does physical appearance matter at a car rental firm?
Sometimes, it’s hard to navigate the workplace
Adulting is difficult. Nobody taught us how to be adults in school, so a lot of what being an adult is learnt through trial and error. How do you register for a Housing Development Board flat? How does the Central Provident Fund work? How do I deal with taxes? I’m told to invest in things — but in what, exactly? Non-fungible tokens? What are those?
Part of being an adult is also about being a working adult. However, the modern office is another minefield to navigate. What do you wear? What do you say to not sound stupid in meetings? Will I be judged for taking extended maternity leave? Of course, you learn these things sooner or later, but there’s one thing that some people, mostly women, have to learn the hard way.
According to Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), two in five Singaporeans, most of them women, have experienced some form of sexual harassment at the workplace. What’s worse is that, even if the victims dare to speak up, they are sometimes faced with threats and repercussions, such as job loss, low productivity, time out of work and loss of income.
Work in progress
Before we achieve true equality, women need all the help that they can get — and that is where National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) U Women and Family comes in. NTUC U Women and Family is an initiative that’s all about enabling career choices, creating safe and flexible workplaces, as well as maximising the potential of working women through leadership development. In the near future, NTUC U Women and Family has plans to expand its community mentoring programme, which will target women in mid-level management and returning to work.
Looking ahead, the aforementioned White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development lists 25 action plans to urge “more flexible work arrangements to greater protection for victims of domestic violence”. Numbers wise, Singapore is also taking steps in the right direction. Women are currently on the Boards of 19.7% of top 100 listed companies, 29.7% of statutory boards, as well as 28.4% of top 100 institutions of Public Character — a far cry from just a decade ago. However, gender equality is not a destination, but a journey — a work in progress that we, collectively, must strive towards.