Empowering women to co-shape Singapore's future

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Novel ideas were explored to fulfil women’s aspirations at the 4th PAP Women’s Wing Conference 2016.

Focusing on women's perspectives and aspirations, the 4th PAP Women's Wing Conference 2016 offered a host of recommendations to enhance the ability of Singapore women to partner other segments of society to build a better nation.

These included novel suggestions such as incentivising women who stay at home to care for children or the elderly by encouraging family members to contribute to their CPF accounts; tapping the pool of retired nurses to create an on-line support network for working mothers, and providing training so that stay-at-home women could start ebusinesses.

As part of the SGfuture conversations, the Women's Wing (WW) had organised five focus group discussions from March to May involving some 120 female participants from all age groups and backgrounds. Inputs were also received from several organisations, including the Association of Women Doctors (Singapore), Singapore Association of Women Lawyers and the Financial Women's Association Singapore.

After studying the feedback, the team, comprising MPs Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC), Sun Xue Ling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), Cheryl Chan (Fengshan SMC), Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC), Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC), and former Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Penny Low, in consultation with the WW's Exco, drew up the recommendations. These were presented in an advocacy paper at the conference held on July 16.

Women are the heart of Branch MPS

By drawing lessons from GE2015, Bukit Batok by-election and Brexit, WW chairman Ms Grace Fu stressed that Singapore needs good policies and politics, and for the PAP to ensure that no segments of our society are left behind.

Addressing the more than 300 women activists, Ms Fu pointed out that in this aspect, women activists are in a good position to contribute with our unique networks.

"When we go to the wet markets, we get to know the stallholders and the aunties there very well. Many of us work in the pre-school sector and have linkages with young working parents. We are also familiar with people we meet at the void decks. In schools, we are active in parent support groups. This is our unique advantage," she said.

Ms Fu, who is also the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, noted that women have empathy and she noticed that when the male volunteers at meet-thepeople sessions (MPS) come across a case too emotional to handle, they often pass it to women activists.

Urging the activists to continue their good work, Ms Fu said: "We are the ears and eyes, hands and legs, and most importantly, we are the heart of the MPS of the branch," she added.

Fulfilling women's aspirations The focus group discussions revealed that women wanted to pursue their individual aspirations while contributing to the family and community. Insights were gained on their aspirations in four areas:

• Leadership and Social Impact

• Employment and Entrepreneurship

• Family and Caregiving

• Financial Well-Being

Members of the WW team presented recommendations on each of these areas.

Prudent spending

Retired MP Ms Low cited real-life cases where retired women who were so concerned about not being a burden to their families, they become so frugal that they refused to see a doctor when ill.

She called for financial advice to be provided to retired women, pointing out: "It's not about saving money, but spending wisely."

Ms Indranee Rajah, the conference's organising chairman and WW vice chairman and Outreach Lead, said: "We as the Women's Wing of the PAP, we have a voice, we have a contribution to make. In this advocacy paper, we are advocating certain positions we would like to put forward to the government.

"These have been drawn from feedback and discussions with women from all walks of life. And it is really to make sure that all segments of society are reached and represented.

That's the purpose of this conference and this paper," added Ms Rajah who is also Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Law.

Ms Sun Xue Ling, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC

"When women strive in the corporate workplace, they want to know there is no glass ceiling. Yet, only 9.5 per cent of SGX-listed companies had women directors in 2015. The PAP Women's Wing aspires to have at least 20 per cent of directorships in SGX-listed companies to be held by qualified women by 2020. One way to achieve this is to encourage already successful women leaders to share their experiences with other aspiring women leaders."

Ms Tin Pei Ling, MP for MacPherson SMC

"There should be an on-line network of caregivers; this has been raised in Parliament. This network can comprise mothers, grandmothers and people experienced in providing care so that working mothers can tap on them in times of need for homebased care, or when centre-based care is not available. We could also organise retired nurses as a resource to help families with children and elderly folk."

Ms Cheryl Chan, MP for Fengshan SMC

"While women are prepared to play the traditional roles of a wife and mother, but with more of them in the workforce, more should be done for them to be a good mother, a good daughter and a good wife. We are suggesting special tax concessions to women returning to the workforce and to the companies hiring them."

Ms Penny Low, Retired MP

"We are proposing incentivising family members to top up the CPF account of a family member who is an unpaid caregiver by matching CPF contributions to the individual's account, up to a certain ceiling."

Other recommendations in the advocacy paper included:

* Women's associations to play a part in championing role models and developing mentoring programmes to guide younger women in their professional development.

* Organisations to conduct a survey to understand the aspirations of their female employees in middle management and reach out to those who want to progress.

* Companies to nominate female executives for assignments that will widen their breadth of experience, including overseas postings.

* Develop SkillsFuture executive leadership programmes, especially for women.

SOCIAL IMPACT

* Develop industry-specific flexi-work arrangements for women so that they can work effectively while also caring for the family.

* Promote creative use of social spaces as venues to establish microbusinesses or social enterprises.

* Identify areas of volunteerism that women are particularly interested in, and provide training to encourage the professionalisation of skills.

* Harness technology so that women can manage family commitments while pursuing aspirations such as conducting e-commerce, or providing voluntary services.

EMPLOYMENT AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

* Continuous improvement in company policies and HR practices to support women returning to or to remain in the workforce.

* Encourage corporations and public sector to have mentoring programmes for promising women employees.

* Provide enhanced support networks for employees who are single parents so that they can better manage their time and financial resources.

* Change existing mindsets such as the insistence on physical presence of employees.

FAMILY AND CAREGIVING

* Locate care centres for children and the elderly near workplaces so that working women can respond to emergencies quickly.

* Implement initiatives to help back-to-work women by keeping existing professional skills up-to-date, and offering them internships in new workplaces.

* Encourage active and fit elderly persons to form networks to assist fellow elderly who may be disabled or have health problems.

FINANCIAL WELL-BEING

* Promote financial literacy so that women start saving early in their lives and to provide financial guidance as they mature.

* Promote retirement adequacy by providing tax relief and better interest rates for CPF top-ups for spouses with little CPF savings.

This article was first published in the Feb 2016 issue of Petir Magazine.

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Published by and at the directions of People's Action Party
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