WOMEN IN SINGAPORE

WOMEN IN SINGAPORE

Kalinga Seneviratne wrote in the Asia Times, Singapore has produced a large number of highly educated young women, many of whom now have high-powered jobs and find child-rearing not only an economic burden but a liability to their career development. "Children are no longer an asset but a liability," argued young lawyer Shirley Tan. "Child care and education are so expensive, and I can't afford to stay at home to look after them." [Source: Kalinga Seneviratne, Asia Times, August 26, 2006]

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Educated and financially independent, the new Singaporean woman is running into a wall of male traditions that is leaving some holes in their relationship, including marriage. The trend had been building up over a couple of decades. In few other countries have women made larger strides in education and careers than in Singapore. During the past few decades they have caught up with, and even overtaken, men in fields they had once dominated. In university, women still outnumber men 55-45 with many moving strongly into subjects like media, mathematics, law and engineering, among others. Recently girls won seven of the top 11 awards for A-level Physics, which had long been a boys’ domain. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, February 13, 2005 /::\]

“Island-wide, women have moved into the highest ranks of the corporate world and commanded artillery units or police divisions, as well as trained jetfighter pilots. Ten women, aged 20-40, are planning to climb Mount Everest. In short, the new female is able, confident and more than holding up half the heavens, but not getting equal success in their relationship with men. This is running smack into a traditional male value of wanting to be seen wearing the pants, causing a growing “incompatibility”. Better education has also led to the woman being perceived as too ambitious, self-centred and materialistic, not qualities that promote romance.As a consequence, more men are choosing their brides from abroad, especially from China, Vietnam and most of all Malaysia, where historical links remain strong.

Mothers are entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave in Singapore, subject to conditions, including the child being a Singapore citizen, and the mother having served at her company for at least 90 days before giving birth.

Singapore’s rape law includes a provision excluding the possibility of marital rape.

Birth Control and Abortion, see Population

Sexually-Liberated Singaporean Women

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “During the past decade or two, this young confident, better-educated and increasingly independent-minded person has become as sophisticated as her sister in the West. Recent events have shown just how much society, and our women, have been changed by modernisation, including the following: 1) As if taking a cue from the US, a 32-year-old school teacher and mother pleaded guilty to having sex on six occasions with her student aged 15. She has made history by becoming the first Singaporean woman to be charged with having sex with a minor. 2) TV and radio celebrity Jamie Yeo, 31, recently blogged about how she lost her virginity at 18, and other intimate details of how she found pleasure at six. In a message no one’s grandmother would likely have voiced, Jamie told the men: “It is your duty to romance us, even if we’re fussy, picky and annoying. For we are also beautiful, sexy, loving and endearing, and don’t forget, you need us. We bear you children.” 3. Parents reacted angrily when a 32-year-old primary school teacher posted photos of herself in G-string bikinis that were accessible to her pupils. Her defence: Teachers, too, are entitled to live their own private lives. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, February 21, 2009]

Nowadays chat-sites frequently carry discussions about married women having affairs with their office colleagues, a trend that was virtually unheard of 20 years ago. One report estimated that one in seven married women has had affairs at least once in her lifetime. “My male colleague told me that he prefers married women because there won’t be strings attached ... and these flings are more exciting,” a blogger related.

Singapore society (of all races) remains broadly serious, conservative and religious. However, the increasing global influences in recent decades have eroded traditional values among a growing minority of young people – particularly women. What was viewed as “immoral” by their grandmothers is considered “normal” by many girls and boys today.

Singapore Women Shun Marriage and Having Babies

According to to one survey almost six out of 10 women in Singapore say that they are not submissive, while two-thirds believe they could live without men. In 2002, AFP reported: A survey by a government appointed committee to promote family life found that of all the singles in Singapore, women over the age of 30 are least likely to think about marrying and starting a family. Highlighting a difference in the sexes, the study found men want to build a career then start a family, while for women the longer they are in a career the less interested they are in marriage. "Ladies somehow lose interest in getting married and having children once their careers are more settled," said committee chairman Chan Soo Sen. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 27, 2002]

Researcher David Chan, who conducted the survey, said that as a woman's career progresses she faces "increasing opportunity costs" to getting married. The survey found the proporition of women who found marriage preferable to remaining single dropped from 80 percent among 20 year olds to 48 percent for the over 30s. Singapore has long been concerned about its declining birth rate, and has provided a number of incentives for people to get married and start a family. The government encourages employers to offer flexible work hours so couples can spend more "quality time" together, it has introduced a baby-bonus scheme to encourage bigger families, and there is a state-run dating agency.

In 2007, Channel News Asia reported: “Reluctance to lifestyle change and financial difficulty - have been cited by women in the South West district as the two main reasons for not having children. Some 270 took part in the survey carried out with the help of the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society, which showed that having children was not the intention of one in four of the women polled. [Source: Channel News Asia, March 5, 2007]

The survey also found that more Chinese and Indian women are not considering having children, as compared to Malays. "There's a trend to show that more women in tertiary education are considering pregnancy. We need to a conduct bigger study before we can generalise that this is the sentiment of the current women in Singapore," said Dr Tan Thiam Chye, Principal Investigator, Obstetrical & Gynaecological Society.

One reason for this may be that they feel more financially-able to support a family as compared to those who have secondary education or lower. Dr Tan adds that the survey also showed, while most women were well informed on pregnancy and nutritional supplements in pregnancy, only half of them planned their pregnancies.

Men Fed Up Singapore Girls Choosing Foreign Brides

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “More Singapore men “are choosing their brides from abroad, especially from China, Vietnam and most of all Malaysia, where historical links remain strong. I attended five weddings that reflected the trend. Four of the brides were from Malaysia and China and only one was local. One groom with a Johor bride said he had found Singaporean girls too materialistic and demanding. “One specifically set a condition: no living with my parents. She wasn’t happy dating on public buses.” The women’s relentless pursuit of a career had come at the expense of learning to do simple household chores like cooking, ironing or looking after babies. “If you want to marry a Singapore girl you must be prepared to eat at hawker centres for life,” one male cynic said. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, February 13, 2005 /::\]

“A marriage agency owner told a radio interviewer how some of the girls had, on the first date, plied the men with questions like: What is your degree and earnings? Do you own a condo? “And they’re surprised when they didn’t get a second date,” she said. Others find them picky, untrusting and calculative towards love and marriage. Results of recently released research have found that one in five Singaporean wives is hiding her assets from her husband for fear that he will squander them or in case the marriage fails. This 20 percent here compares with France (7.2 percent), USA (7.6 percent), Brazil (9 percent), Romania (12 percent) and Britain (16.8 percent). Another sign is the increasing number of cases when a private detective is hired to check on the spouse. /::\

“The changing female attitude is, of course, only half the cause. The other is the man sticking to a traditional view that it is his right as head to leave the babies and household work to his working wife. One in two women here have a job. The social impact is a growing number of single women, especially university graduates. /::\

A growing minority is marrying Westerners. This has prompted a newspaper reader to urge her well-educated peers to revisit some the traditional feminine traits. Her letter followed reports that more Singaporeans, including young professional males, were turning abroad for brides. She said she had worked in Vietnam and found the girls there feminine, their speech melodious. “They work hard without complaining, carrying loads of cloth and vegetables in the market stalls and food places. Simple, gentle and hardworking, it's hard not to fall in love with them,” she added.

“As for the Malaysian ladies, she finds them “neither loud nor argumentative, (but) pander to the boys' needs. Not as doormats, but as cheerful assistants, who see it as their obligation to help their men without expecting anything in return. “Not that they are stupid - oh, no, the Malaysian girls I know are smart and hardworking, with careers of their own. “But when it comes to matters of the heart, they play the docile, giggly girlfriend with as much aplomb as their Vietnamese counterparts. Again, it's easy to see where their attraction lies.” /::\

“In contrast, the Singapore girl is twice as likely as her Malaysian or Vietnamese counterpart to stride away in a huff or throw water in the male's face or hold a public screaming or crying fit. “The Singapore girl debates and argues impassionedly. She wants to win at all costs and treats her love conquests like those fought in the office arena. She may be pretty, yes, smart, yes, but, oh, so demanding.” The Singapore girl, in short, is a challenge to love, she added. Although she may, at the end of the day, be a supportive and faithful spouse, the barbs hiding her soft interior are daunting to the suitor. “She is materialistic, and loves being so. Shopping is a major hobby, and looking good is absolutely essential. The man is but another accessory, a helper, chauffeur, bag carrier.” /::\

Sarong Party Girls (SPGs)

In the early 2000s Brannigan's Pub in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Singapore was where young Southeast Asian girls, nicknamed Sarong Party Girls (SPGs), hoped to meet foreigners who were willing to marry them and take them away to the West. A waiter working at the pub told Reuters, "The SPG does not trade sex for cash, she is free but is also very picky. You do not choose her, she chooses you. She is not a prostitute." Sarongs are a reference to a kind of skirt worn in many Southeast Asian countries.

Singapore residents see the SPGs as a manifestation of the so called Pinkerton Syndrome: Asian women looking for white husbands. The syndrome is named after a character in Pucini's opera Madame Butterfly. A Thai factory worker, labeled as a SPG told Reuters, "The Singapore guys lack grace and time. What's worse they do not know how to enjoy life, for they are always working overtime. Anyway, Singapore has little to offer—life is limited and boring."

Maternity Leave in Singapore

Staring in August 2008 paid maternity leave in Singapore was extended from 12 weeks to 16 weeks. Channel News Asia reported: “To ease the burden on employers, the government will subsidise half of the cost for the first two confinements. For the first and second child, the first eight weeks of maternity leave will continue to be paid by the employer. For the third child onwards, all four months of maternity leave will be funded by the government, capped at S$40,000 per confinement including CPF contributions. [Source: Channel News Asia, August 21, 2008]

Most companies are positive about the new policies to encourage work-life balance for parents. But some small and medium-sized businesses have expressed concerns on how the new policies may affect their operations. Kurt Wee, vice president, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said: "From an employers’ perspective, if you have a key person, and that person is away for four months, you obviously have to find someone as capable, as experienced, as knowledgeable to fill in that role. I think the cost in itself would be quite mild and absorbable."

Under the new rules, those dismissed without sufficient cause within the last six months of pregnancy will be entitled to their benefits, up from the current three months. This is to prevent discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. In order to be eligible for the maternity benefits, mothers must have worked continuously for at least 90 calendar days before childbirth - half the current duration.

In 2007, Associated Press reported: “Singapore has relaxed its rules on maternity leave, now allowing single mothers to take 12 weeks away from work - as long as they marry the child's father within three months of the birth, a newspaper reported. Previously, women had to be married before the birth in order to be entitled to maternity leave. The changes were announced Monday in Parliament by Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, state minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports. She noted that as the government-sponsored leave must be taken with six months of the baby's birth, the marriage must take place within three months in order for the woman to enjoy the full leave, the Straits Times reported. In 2004, there were at least 540 out-of-wedlock births, the report said.

The change specifies that the mother must marry the father of the child to qualify, not just any man. It said the government and employer share the maternity leave costs for a woman's first two children. For her third and fourth children, the government handles full reimbursement. In another change, Parliament also announced that the natural parents of illegitimate children can claim parenthood tax rebates for their second, third and fourth children if they marry before the child turns 6. [Source: Associated Press, January 24, 2007]

Women in Government in Singapore

Lim Hwee Hua, a female politician, served a the Deputy Speaker in the Singaporean parliament and leader of the PAP's women's wing. In 2010, Clement Mesenas wrote in the Singaporean magazine Today, “Mrs Lim herself made it to the inner ranks of the PAP for a second time recently — the only woman to have made it to the central executive committee. She had to go through the struggle of combining the effort of raising children with the demands of a career. In this respect, she was grateful for an understanding husband who shared her decision to stay at home after the birth of their second child — for a period of four years, under a Government scheme that permitted such a break from work with no pay.[Source: Clement Mesenas, Today, December 21, 2010 \*/]

“The Lims have a son, aged 23 today, and two daughters, 21 and 15. "I had to decide what was important — career or family. I was aware that I would be up against younger people when I returned to work," said Mrs Lim, who eventually decided that a mother's bonding with her younger children was crucial towards their development. \*/

“On how more women are assuming roles of authority, and how men have been adjusting to the trend of having women as bosses, Mrs Lim recalls an interesting episode when she assumed the post of leader of the PAP's women's wing. There was a bit of bother over how she should be addressed: Should it be Chairperson, or Chairwoman? "Just call me Chairman." Mrs Lim permitted herself a rare smile as she recalled her pragmatic advice to her committee, explaining that the title was indicative of the position, not the sex of the incumbent. When she was made Deputy Speaker in Parliament — the first woman in the post — there was again the question of how she should be addressed. Should be it Mr Deputy Speaker? After due consideration, Madam Deputy Speaker was deemed about right.” \*/ Female Politician’s View on Women in Government in Singapore

In 2010, Clement Mesenas wrote in the Singaporean magazine Today, “She often comes across as a tough no-nonsense figure, but in conversation, she projects warmth and understanding, although in a cool-headed style. But if there's one thing that perks up Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, it's the women's role in Government. The role of the family is not far behind, though. "We need to have more women coming forward to serve — in positions from Members of Parliament to grassroots leaders," Mrs Lim, who was appointed Minister of State for Finance and Transport in 2004, told Today in an exclusive interview recently. [Source: Clement Mesenas, Today, December 21, 2010 \*/]

“There's a sense of urgency in her words that women have a third role to play — in addition to managing careers and homes — in shaping the future of the country; Singapore, she says, "belongs to both men and women and it's a matter of responsibility that women of all ages come forward and provide feedback, and help with policy formulation". Too often, it's the same women — in the older age group category — who stand up to be counted. "We need more younger women, working women in their 20s, to play a role in community to shape the future of society," said Mrs Lim, adding with a touch of humour that being 47, she would not presume to know how women in their 20s think. \*/

“Notwithstanding the fact that she is often seen in black pantsuits, Mrs Lim is a woman's woman in the sense that she strongly believes that more women should be part of the national decision-making process. The People's Action Party (PAP) and grassroots committees are seen by some as being male-dominated, admitted Mrs Lim, who was elected MP for the Marine Parade GRC in 1996 and then won re-election this year as an MP for Aljunied GRC Against the backdrop of the rising number of women leaders in the services sector, the number of women MPs also needs to go up. \*/

"A total of 17 women MPs out of a House of 84 is just 20 percent, whereas the number of women leaders in the services industries is closer to 33 percent," said Mrs Lim, whose various jobs included that of an investment analyst before joining Temasek Holdings as a managing director. Stressing that she does not believe in quotas — "otherwise some might think that my presence in the cabinet is a result of having to fulfil a quota" — she says that filling up a third of Government positions with women would be a good target to aim for, without disclosing a timeframe for such fulfilment. \*/

“Surprisingly, she does not pity Singaporean women, some of whom complain of being caught up in a never-ending struggle of having to balance the demands of career and home. "The women of Singapore today have it so good — with access to education and employment opportunities — compared to their counterparts in the region," she said. Although the Government has put in place pro-family policies, she feels that career opportunities open to women means that more will choose to settle down later rather than sooner. But Mrs Lim is confident that once a woman decides to tie the knot, having children is a natural extension of getting married. Part of the solution in helping working women decide to have families lies with how husbands help out with the chores at home, and in this respect, she gave full marks to the Singapore men in general. They push strollers and they feed babies as a matter of course, she observes.” \*/

Working Women in Singapore

According to the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) Research and Statistics Department's "Singapore Workforce 2013" report: More females and older residents joined the labour force, raising labour force participation rate for the second consecutive year to a new high of 66.7 percent , The rate of females' participation in the labour force rose significantly over the decade from 50.9 percent in 2003 to 58.1 percent in 2013, as females became better educated and benefitted from more employment opportunities in the services sector. [Source: Ministry of Manpower's (MOM), November 29, 2013]

In 2005, Takehiko Kajita of Kyodo wrote: “Clean, safe and green, Singapore is one of the most favored destinations for modern Japanese women who want to work and play hard. In Japan, women often find it difficult to get into key corporate positions and face pressure to quit once they get married or give birth. So the city-state's female-friendly working environment is quite attractive to them. [Source: Takehiko Kajita, Kyodo, June 18, 2005]

"In Japan, it's almost impossible for women aged over 30 to find a full-time position. But it's easier to get one here," said Mayo Omura, a 32-year-old accountant at the local unit of Hewlett-Packard Co. She and many other Japanese women interviewed for this article seemed well-informed about present-day Singapore -- who to speak to for business, where to go for leisure, and what to buy at which shops. "I suspect the days of Karayuki-san have become distant history," said Kazuo Sugino, secretary general of the Japanese Association in Singapore. [Ibid]

Singaporean Women Fired for Having Kids

In 2005, Jasmine Yin wrote in Today, “Singapore's policy makers may have come up with a host of measures to boost the nation's flagging fertility rate, but the stance of some employers towards pregnant employees may well be undermining the national effort. In recent weeks, several readers complained to Today about the blatant discrimination they or their friends had faced because they had given birth. Similar complaints have been received by Aware, the women's rights group. One woman returned to work after maternity leave to find she no longer had a job, while another was sacked two weeks after she told her employer she was pregnant. Mdm Corrinn Swee, 34, and Mdm Lois Teoh Bee Ean, 31, believe they were terminated unfairly from their jobs this year because of their pregnancies. [Source: Jasmine Yin, Today, April 5, 2005 ^*^]

“After eight weeks of maternity leave, Mdm Swee returned to work at a foreign re-insurance company, her workplace of three years. But her boss told her to leave the company. When she protested that the termination was "very unfair" and undermined the Government's pro-baby policy, her boss replied: "This is your Singapore Government. I am French." He attributed his decision to her frequent mistakes. But she suspected otherwise when he refused to let her see and rectify the alleged mistakes. She also recalled an incident, prior to her pregnancy, when he remarked that he would terminate the next pregnant employee in the department. This was after two of her colleagues had gone on maternity leave. Mdm Swee asked: "Who would dare to have children if they are working for such a foreign company?" ^*^

“Local employers are just as capable of such discriminatory practices. On January 3, Mdm Teoh was promoted to international operations manager at a local electronic components trading company and given a 5 percent dividend-sharing offer, based on the company's performance. On March 9, two weeks after she told the management of her pregnancy, her boss emailed her to "to resign and leave the company immediately", she told Today. Mdm Teoh's employer, a Singaporean, said she had been "making a lot of typos, and (her) job performance has not been up to par". But she disputes this, saying: "He just gave me a promotion and a profit-sharing letter. How can things change so fast?" She said she could not believe that the man, a father of four, would do such a thing to her. "The government is encouraging (women) to give birth, and yet, you have to suffer this kind of discrimination … and injustice. The government needs to act to warn employers that it will not condone such socially irresponsible behaviour." ^*^

“Another TODAY reader, Ms Linda Lo, wrote about how her friend had to leave her recruitment specialist job at a multi-national computer company said after the manager said the company did not employ pregnant women because they would "interfere with work flow". The manager's parting words to her friend were: "After you leave, don't expect to find another job until you have given birth. No one will employ a pregnant woman." ^*^

Singapore’s Employment Act is supposed to provide sufficient protection to fight pregnancy-related discrimination. “The Act does not cover those in managerial and executive positions. They are bound by the terms and conditions of the contract that they have with their respective employers. The Ministry of Manpower said anyone who thinks he or she has been terminated unfairly can appeal directly or through the union (if they are union members) to the Minister for Manpower for reinstatement within two months from the date of dismissal. ^*^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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