Reaching out to women inside and outside of the Party

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New WW Exco wants to boost political education within the Party, and attract new members.

Over the last four years, the PAP's Women's Wing (WW) has become less of a platform for social gathering and community service and more one for political education and activism. And this will be sharpened further in the years ahead.

WW's chairman Grace Fu wants to reach out to women who have not been involved regularly in branch work but would like to participate in areas such as policy feedback and debate.

Ms Fu, the Minister of Culture, Community and Youth, said they found out during GE2015 that many women volunteers were "supporters of the party but not working with us on a weekly basis."

Due to their work and family commitments, these women do not have the time to be involved in branch work regularly and as a result, do not become members.

"But they're keen to share their views on policies and give feedback. If we don't get them into the party, then we're potentially losing out on a wide range of views and ideas which we should be tapping on," pointed out Ms Fu.

"We can give these women a platform to air their views and discuss policies."

The Women's Wing was set up in 1989 to provide female members with a platform to take part in politics and its members meet once every three month.

In line with the political focus, talks which take place during these gatherings may be on topics like the constitutional amendments and our political system, said Ms Indranee Rajah, a vice-chairman who oversees the wing's outreach programme. She pointed out the internal outreach will also include training sessions to better equip women activists in their branch work, like how to draft effective appeals during meetthe- people sessions. (MPS)

Better matching of needs of the ground with the skill sets of the women will also create opportunities for them to join the party. Ms Indranee cited instances of how a lawyer's legal skills came in useful during MPS while a dentist is leading a dental care outreach programme.

"It's really presenting to these women the fact that they can make a difference and helping them to identify how and where they can do so,'' pointed out Ms Indranee.

Stepping up to the plate

Recalling her own experience when she was invited to join the PAP and stand as a candidate, Ms Indranee, who is Senior Minister of State (Finance and Law) said: "This was in 2001 and there were only four women MPs then, too few. When I was asked, it was tempting to say No and stay in my comfort zone.

"But then I thought, we do want more women MPs, and here I was being given a chance to contribute. I felt I had to step up to the plate,'' she said.

Assessing the progress made by women within the party, Ms Fu said: "Majority of our positions - from those at the branch level, eg the Branch secretary to the Exco levels, are still held by men."

And while she sees more women taking up leadership positions at branch levels, she feels it is still not enough.

"We have to encourage women to step up and we also have to encourage branches to give women the opportunities," she said. "But to make it work, we need to develop capabilities among the women members and give them more political education... equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge."

Ms Fu, who recently became the first woman to lead a ministry, hopes that she is pushing the boundary for women who are interested in politics.

"We had the first woman minister (Mrs Lim Hwee Hua), the first woman Speaker of Parliament (Madam Halimah Yaacob) and other firsts in the past." she said.

"These should send strong signals to women that it's not impossible for women to participate actively in the politics of Singapore. I hope more women will be encouraged to step forward and reach for their goals."

Keeping WW exco grounded

All four new women MPs elected in last year's general election were incorporated into the Women Wing's executive committee.

WW Chairman Grace Fu explained: "It is important to give them access to a network of WW branch chairmen and activists for them to know the leadership at local level and get a feel of the women-related issues on the ground."

One of the new MPs, Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), Deputy District Adviser (Northeast), said she sees her role within the wing as an extension of her role as an MP.

"Women perform many roles… My challenge will be to engage the women among the many roles they perform and be able to empathise, encourage and engage them."

Ms Cheng, 39, said her role within the Women's Wing was two-fold. First, it is outward, reaching out and connecting with women in the North-east district so that their needs and perspectives are heard and reflected. The second is more inward, to guide and advise representatives of the district.

The deputy CEO of an engineering firm hopes to push for work-life balance, to help the less fortunate and be a champion for family.

Ms Cheng said: "I hope to spend more time identifying the deep issues and concerns surrounding women, their environment and loved ones, so that we can recommend effective policies and come up with good solutions to the Government and party leadership."

While the new MPs make up the Exco's new faces, Ms Fu was keen for stability within the committee and kept the district level leaders.

One of those who stayed on was Deputy District Representative (Central) Elaine Ho.

Ms Ho, 33, started out in grassroots work when she was on maternity leave after her first child.

"I'm the type who cannot sit still and I felt like I needed to do something more useful," said the corporate lawyer.

When she saw how her time and effort was helping people less fortunate than her like the needy and elderly, Ms Ho continued on even after rejoining the workforce.

"Women are more inclined to stay on the safe side of things," said the mother of two young girls. "But we want our voices heard more for a better future for our children and women of the next generation."

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

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