[Original Article: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapore-is-top-asian-nation-for-gender-equality-un-report]
Publication Date: 29 Dec 2015
Author: Kok Xing Hui
Women and men in Singapore are a little more equal now, compared to those in other countries, according to the latest Human Development Report by the United Nations.
In its 2014 report, the Republic is ranked 13th out of 155 countries, making it the top Asian country for gender equality. Its 2013 position was 15th out of 152 countries.
The gender inequality index measures differences between men and women in reproductive health, empowerment and labour participation rates. Reproductive health looks at maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy rates. Empowerment takes into account parliamentary seats held by women and how they figure in higher education.
A lower value in the index suggests smaller inequalities and, therefore, a better position in the ranking. Singapore’s score was 0.088.
Mrs Laura Hwang, Singapore’s representative for women’s rights to the Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, pegged the improvement to there being more women with at least secondary education.
The proportion rose from 57 per cent in 2011 to 71 per cent last year.
She said: “This translates to women being better equipped for employment in higher wage earning capacity, and the greater labour force contribution reflects this as there is a 3 per cent rise in the labour force participation rate.”
Singapore ranked 11th overall in the Human Development Index (HDI) at 0.912, putting it among the 49 countries with very high human development. Norway ranked first at 0.944, followed by Australia and Switzerland. Singapore performed better than South Korea, Japan and Britain in the HDI.
Compared with other countries with a good HDI, Singapore had a lower maternal mortality and adolescent birth rate, but slightly fewer parliamentary seats held by women.
Mr Milorad Kovacevic, chief statistician at the Human Development Report Office, said 25.3 per cent of parliamentary seats in Singapore are held by women.
This is slightly lower than the average for all countries in the very high HDI group (26.5 per cent), but higher than in the East Asia and the Pacific region (18.7 per cent).
Lawyer Malathi Das, president of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, said it was heartening to see improvements in areas such as life expectancy and better workforce participation. She said: “Some areas where we can improve can include measures to support and keep women in the workforce, ensuring non-economic work such as caregiving and homemaking is valued, and aligning work and school hours so working parents can better share caregiving roles.”
- Definitely as a ‘Westernised’ Asian state these figures make sense. The government’s emphasis on meritocracy creates a suitably secular narrative to encourage everyone (regardless of race, religion or gender) to excel. And evidently, it as succeeded, as seen by the figures in the article showing that more women are achieving higher levels of education.
- Also, it is important to remember that Singaporean parents are generally more forward thinking, as compared to most other Asian states. In the sense that they do not discriminate educational opportunities based on gender. Though the same may not necessarily be said regarding social norms, but at least in terms of perspectives on education, most Singaporeans are more ‘open’ than most other Asian states.
- It is also interesting to note that more than a quarter of our parliament is made out of women. In the big picture of the world, where there are many governments which are heavily populated by males, this is a good sign. This shows that women one, are not afraid to go into politics (hence a shattering of gender norms) and two, women are empowered to go into politics.
- However, while a decent proportion of our parliament is made out of women, the next question is regarding the proportion of our ministers. As of 2017, we currently have 2 female full-time ministers: Ms Grace Fu (Minister for Culture, Community and Youth) and Mrs Josephine Teo (Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Second Minister for Manpower and Foreign Affairs), both of whom were appointed only fairly recently. Singapore still has a bit more to go before being able to proclaim that women are fully empowered in politics. Because, women are only now being inserted into significant positions of power, and even then their portfolios are not exactly the most ‘glamorous’. But at least, with this trend of increasing female ministers, there is some hope.
Article By: Christine Ow