The People’s Action Party (PAP) has had a history of treating men and women unequally. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that it evolved in a time period where men and women did play different roles in society. But the question is whether the party has evolved in tandem with social mores. Further, has the PAP led government done enough to guide Singapore into first world norms?
The PAP started off as a paternalistic party where men took the lead and women provided the support. Nowhere was this ethos played out more clearly than in the marriage of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, Ms Kwa Geok Choo. While Mrs Lee was definitely involved in state affairs, she was content to remain behind the scenes while Mr Lee took the lead.
In a way, I wonder if the union of Mr Lee Hsien Loong and Ms Ho Ching is of a similar pattern. While the current Prime Minister Lee is the front of government, does Ho Ching provide behind the scenes maneuvering and influence through her high profile position at the helm of Temasek Holdings, an ostensibly private enterprise with heavy and arguably porous links to the government? That however, is the subject of another discussion.
If Ho Ching is indeed playing a greater role in affairs of the state than what a normal wife would, should she not just run for office in her own right? That way, her actions would have a degree of accountability as opposed to influence that cannot be measured due to its opaque manner? Or, perhaps, is this the grand design of the PAP’s pattern of power between men and women? Let’s look at the general patterns of history.
In the 70s, quotas were put in place for medical school on the basis that it was an expensive course that was heavily subsidised. Males were prioritised because women were deemed to be a “waste” to train given that they would simply end up having babies instead of remaining doctors. This ended up penalising a generation of would be doctors and also depriving the public of the best possible doctors for instead of training the best, they were training people for their sex. The view then was very much that a woman’s role was to support her husband and family instead of having a career in her own right or for that matter, a public opinion.
In the 80s, we had the “Graduate Mother” scheme to encourage more “smart” women to have babies. This was done on the premise that graduate women would produce smarter babies leading to a more productive generation. This scheme is based on the false premise that if you are a graduate, you are smarter and will have smarter children. Apart from this blatant form of elitist social engineering, this scheme completely ignores the role of the father and his education level. The bottom line is that women are here to breed and even when they are highly qualified, the idea of family and babies are dangled before them. Instead of offering all women better support to upskill to ensure that all women are productive, the government chose to reduce graduate women to baby machines.
In the 90s, we had the flagrant discrimination against single mothers. In a country where social mores were preached under the guise of “Asian values”, women who dared to fall pregnant outside wedlock were penalised. The men were never brought to task despite it taking two to tango. It was the women who were stigmatised. While their married colleagues were offered baby bonuses and maternity leave, single mothers were forced to fend for themselves. This was done on the myopic stance that the government did not want to encourage single parenthood. To be honest, very few people would choose to be a single parent in conservative Singapore but hey, things happen and will always happen. Their narrow point of view did nothing but create bias and prejudice. To this day, unwed mothers are offered far less help than married ones. Ironic given that it is the unmarried mothers that need more help. It is almost as if the government machine does not understand what it is like to be a woman. Are there too few female voices who are speaking up for women in Parliament?
Even now, we have incidences where I wonder if the government is still living in the middle ages. A recent example would be how the CareShield which will be replacing the ElderShield is being formulated and implemented. In this new scheme, women will be made to pay more premiums on the basis that they tend to live longer! This is despite the fact that women earn much less on average! Does CareShield care for men more than women?
If the scheme is run by the government to assist Singaporeans, shouldn’t they assist all Singaporeans equally whether they be men or women? Why quantify the costs to this degree? Is profit making so important that women need to be sidelined like this?
Of course, things have improved since the inception of the PAP in the 50s and 60s. But has it improved enough? To date we only have 3 women in Cabinet and even that is a very recent development. Given that Singapore’s population is made up of over 50% of females, is this an accurate or fair representation?
I think the PAP run government remains a very sexist government although I think it is completely unaware of its bias. As they say – unconscious bias. Just look at all the casually sexist remarks that have been made by unaware male politicians.
Until you are aware that you are ignorant, things will never change. Are the powers be alive to the fact as to how sexist some of their policies are? If you want to be first world, move with the times. Don’t remain stuck in a limbo of institutionalised sexism.