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Sin­ga­pore Com­mit­tee for UN Women turns 20: a look at its work to­wards women’s em­pow­er­ment and gen­der equal­ity

As the Sin­ga­pore Com­mit­tee for UN Women cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary this year, Hashirin Nurin Hashimi looks at some of the game-chang­ing mo­ments and mile­stones in its work to­wards women’s em­pow­er­ment and gen­der equal­ity

A game changer is an event, idea or pro­ce­dure that ef­fects a sig­nif­i­cant shift in the cur­rent way of do­ing or think­ing about some­thing. Go­ing by this dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tion, the Sin­ga­pore Com­mit­tee for UN Women, a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion work­ing to­wards women’s em­pow­er­ment and gen­der equal­ity, is a game changer in its own right for it has hit sev­eral im­por­tant and sig­nif­i­cant ad­vo­cacy mile­stones since its found­ing in 1997. For one, thanks to the ef­forts of the or­gan­i­sa­tion and its part­ners in rais­ing aware­ness on child pros­ti­tu­tion in the re­gion, the Sin­ga­pore gov­ern­ment amended Sec­tion 376 of the Pe­nal Code in 2008 to crim­i­nalise com­mer­cial sex with a mi­nor un­der 18 not just in Sin­ga­pore, but also over­seas. Then, as a re­flec­tion of the Day Off Cam­paign it launched in 2008 with two non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions ded­i­cated to as­sist­ing low-wage mi­grant work­ers, a leg­is­la­tion man­dat­ing a weekly rest day for for­eign do­mes­tic work­ers took ef­fect in 2013. The Sin­ga­pore Com­mit­tee for UN Women also con­trib­uted to a Na­tional Plan of Ac­tion against Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons (TIP), which guided Sin­ga­pore’s TIP strat­egy from 2012 to 2015, when the coun­try put in place its first stand­alone anti-traf­fick­ing leg­is­la­tion. The last two mile­stones were achieved un­der the watch of past pres­i­dent (and cur­rent ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber) Trina Liang-lin and her team, and she con­sid­ers them one of the high­lights of her term. “Even though the Sin­ga­pore Com­mit­tee for UN Women is an ad­vo­cacy group, our fo­cus is tar­geted on is­sues af­fect­ing women and girls across bor­ders. In Sin­ga­pore, our ef­forts are fo­cused on the rights of do­mes­tic work­ers and sex and labour traf­fick­ing vic­tims.” Through its pro­grammes, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has im­pacted 900,000 lives in Sin­ga­pore, with an­other 45,400 in the re­gion. So it is only apt that “Game Chang­ers” is the theme of its 20th an­niver­sary, where it will cel­e­brate the game-chang­ing mo­ments, mile­stones and peo­ple shap­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion, Sin­ga­pore and the re­gion at its an­nual Snow (Say No to the Op­pres­sion of Women) gala din­ner on Septem­ber 21, at Capella Sin­ga­pore.


Newly appointed pres­i­dent Ge­or­gette Tan ex­plains, “Tra­di­tion­ally, our work has been fo­cused on build­ing aware­ness in Sin­ga­pore on gen­der in­equal­ity, but it has since moved be­yond public ed­u­ca­tion and ex­panded to­wards ad­dress­ing top­i­cal is­sues re­lated to the eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment of women. We look at ways to cre­ate a voice for women by en­trust­ing com­mu­ni­ties to take pre­ven­tive ac­tion against vi­o­lence, ef­fect­ing ac­tion in bridg­ing the eco­nomic gap, and en­gag­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als to sup­port the gen­der equal­ity move­ment through ev­ery­day ac­tions.” Ac­cord­ing to Tan, women in Sin­ga­pore have made great strides. In 2017, the Di­ver­sity Ac­tion Com­mit­tee set an am­bi­tious tar­get to have women make up 20 per cent of boards in listed com­pa­nies by 2020, and 30 per cent in 2030. In 2018, man­power min­is­ter Josephine Teo, cit­ing find­ings from the Min­istry of Man­power’s Labour Force in Sin­ga­pore 2017 sur­vey, pegged Sin­ga­pore’s gen­der pay gap at al­most 12 per cent—an im­prove­ment from 20 per cent a decade ago. Tan also high­lighted that women are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent with a labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion of about 60 per­cent in 2017, and are in­creas­ingly in po­si­tions to make de­ci­sions for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. The Sin­ga­pore Com­mit­tee for UN Women strives to ad­dress these needs through its pro­grammes, in­clud­ing the Girl­s2­pi­o­neers ini­tia­tive that en­cour­ages young girls to take up Stem (Science, Tech­nol­ogy, Engi­neer­ing and Math) in school, and later in their ca­reers; the Help Anna pro­gramme that pro­vides ed­u­ca­tional work­shops to get women to seek help against vi­o­lence; and the He­for­she cam­paign that en­cour­ages men to take an ac­tive role in push­ing for women’s em­pow­er­ment. The or­gan­i­sa­tion also raises funds for re­gional ben­e­fi­cia­ries such as the Roka Com­mune in Cam­bo­dia and Safe Cities Manila in the Philip­pines to en­able them to im­ple­ment their own women-cen­tred pro­grammes. All these are in line with UN Women’s vi­sion of Planet 50:50 by 2030—a world in which so­ci­eties are free of gen­der-based dis­crim­i­na­tion, where women and men have equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. So how can women be­come game chang­ers, es­pe­cially in the dig­i­tal age? New ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber Ruth Yeoh says, “The dig­i­tal age brings with it the power and abil­ity to in­form and in­flu­ence move­ments. Mil­len­ni­als are equipped with tech­nol­ogy to spread the good word and good work of the or­gan­i­sa­tions they sup­port. For ex­am­ple, they are dis­rupt­ing the tra­di­tional fundrais­ing model—crowd­fund­ing is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar and ef­fec­tive, and we see a rise in ‘peo­ple power’”. Tan’s ad­vice: “Find good role mod­els. At the same time, strive to be­come a role model your­self. Be­come that in­flu­encer and game changer in your own spheres of in­flu­ence: in your own fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, class­rooms and com­pa­nies.”

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