The “availability of opportunities” in Singapore’s meritocracy should not be mistaken for the “accessibility of opportunities”, and such is why better steps need to be taken to support Singaporeans from underprivileged backgrounds, said Sengkang Group Representation Constituency Member of Parliament (MP) Raeesah Khan.
Delivering her first speech in the House yesterday (1 September), the Workers’ Party (WP) MP said — in the debate on the President’s Address at the opening of the 14th Parliament — that to this date, “one’s socioeconomic background is still too tightly linked to the accessibility of opportunities one enjoys”.
“It is often argued that under our meritocratic system, Singaporeans enjoy equal access to opportunities and that this access drives social mobility. This, to me, is a simplistic argument.
“From Professor Syed Hussein Alatas in the 70s to Associate Professor Teo You Yenn today, academics in Singapore have long painted detailed pictures of inequality on this island within the frame and context of local reality. Our task moving forward is similar,” she highlighted.
While she acknowledges that reforms “have been made and will be made to our education system where grading and testing are concerned”, Ms Khan said that Singapore must be ready to engage in “reforming teaching and learning, in a careful but ambitious manner, to support learners with different skill sets”.
“But we shouldn’t just stop there. We need to assess and track the accessibility of opportunities at every phase of education, and in the workforce too,” she added.
To this end, Ms Khan called on the Government to open up jobs in the public service and civil service “to candidates from a wider range of academic backgrounds”.
Such a move, she said, “will help improve the diversity of skills, perspectives and talents our administration can draw form”.
Ms Khan also reiterated WP’s call for a national minimum wage and redundancy insurance to further boost disadvantaged workers’ accessibility to greater opportunities to advance their careers.
Focusing on the career trajectories of young Singaporeans, Ms Khan called for a “bolder, long-term approach to creating jobs” for them, particularly for those in the arts and creative industries, as well as in other sectors such as manufacturing, retail, finance and hospitality.
“Let’s give young creatives more opportunities by setting up an independent body for the arts to oversee licensing and funding, and by reforming our media landscape which, for far too long, has suffered from a lack of competition.
“Let’s make a concerted effort to support the creation of green jobs in industries from manufacturing and retail to finance and hospitality, by recognising the reality that economic growth is contingent upon social and environmental needs. And let’s not forget to educate Singaporean students to reimagine the possibilities which lay ahead,” she said.
“Workers looking to make an honest living to support their families should not have to face employment discrimination in the job market”: Raeesah Khan reiterates call for anti-discrimination law
Ms Khan also addressed the problem of discrimination in hiring, and urged the House to consider “whether there are Singaporeans for whom the availability of opportunities in the first place is not as real as we may imagine it to be”.
“Workers looking to make an honest living to support their families should not have to face employment discrimination in the job market because of their age, gender or race, and certainly should not be discriminated because they wear a hijab,” she said.
Hijab is an Arabic term which means “barrier”. In Malay, it is known as tudung. It is a “headscarf” or “veil” often worn by Muslim girls and women to cover their hair, necks and chests as a means to demonstrate piety to God.
Mainstream interpretations of Islamic dress code suggest that hijab is only obligatory for Muslim girls upon reaching puberty, which usually takes place in their early- or mid-teen years. However, some Muslim parents enforce the tudung on their daughters at an earlier age.
There are also many Muslim women who begin wearing the hijab past puberty out of their personal will after making a personal hijrah–a form of spiritual migration or transformation.
Last month, an incident involving a pop-up booth promoter in Tangs made waves across the country after it was reported that she was allegedly asked by two of the department store’s managers to remove her hijab in order to continue working.
Three Malay-Muslim Members of Parliament (MPs) released separate statements on the issue. President Halimah Yacob, who was earlier criticised for her purported silence on the matter, later remarked that discrimination “of any form and against anyone has no place at all in our society and, most certainly, not at the workplace”.
Tangs has since stated that it has begun to allow its frontline staff and promoters to don the hijab, as reported by TODAY on 21 August.
Ms Khan yesterday urged the House to “legislate to this end, not only because fostering an inclusive job market for Singaporean workers makes economic sense, but also simply because this is the right to do”.
“Many young Singaporeans of all backgrounds I have spoken to have echoed these views,” she said.
Three years ago, Faisal Manap — another WP MP — during a motion on the “Aspirations of Singapore Women” called upon Parliament to “not exclude Muslim women who wish to fulfil their career aspirations in line with their religious obligations”.
Citing countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States that have permitted Muslim women serving in uniformed organisations to wear headscarves, Mr Faisal questioned as to when Singapore would move to do the same for the Home Team and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
“As a Singapore Muslim, a husband as well as a father to a daughter, I appeal to the Government to make into reality this call for inclusiveness that is often heard in this Chamber,” he added.