This year, six decades after the first female MPs were sworn in, a record number of new women candidates were fielded by the PAP (including Singapore’s first female brigadier-general). Here are five things you may not have known about PAP women.
1. Beginner’s luck: PAP women (almost) never lose in their first fight.
45 women have been fielded as PAP candidates in Singapore’s history. All have been elected to Parliament on their first election – with the exception of Oh Siew Chen (Cairnhill, 1959) who went up against Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock.
2. The original feminist: Chan Choy Siong and the Women’s Charter
Activist Chan Choy Siong served as the MP for Delta SMC from 1959 to 1970 and worked with Ho Puay Choo and Oh Siew Chen to form the Women’s League (today’s Women’s Wing).
Chan joined the PAP at 20, at a time when women were mocked for going into politics. She fought for equal treatment for women, and for Women’s Charter, passed in 1961. It offered protection for women and their property.
3. A woman – Sahorah binte Ahmad – cast the tie-breaking vote when the communists defected from the PAP in 1961, allowing the PAP to govern without a coalition government.
Sahorah binte Ahmad was one of four PAP women elected in 1959, and the sole Malay woman. She was a good public speaker.
In 1961, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew tabled a motion of confidence in the government in order to flush out the communists. The party whip was lifted, and there was a rush to gather 26 votes to avoid forming a coalition government.
With 25 votes secured, the PAP was one short. Sahorah, who was warded at Singapore General Hospital, agreed to vote. She was carried on a stretcher to the Members’ room, where she walked into the chamber and cast the tie-breaking vote.
4. 1970 – 1984, number of PAP women fielded: Zero
With the retirement of Chan Choy Siong in 1970 and Avadai Dhanam in 1968, there were no women in Parliament. No female PAP candidates stood for election in the next four cycles, although several opposition parties did field women.
This streak was broken in 1984, which saw the election of Dixie Tan, Aline Wong, and Yu-Foo Yee Shoon. In 1988, Seet Ai Mee joined them.
5. 2020: 37% of the new PAP candidates are women, highest proportion ever.
In total, ten new female candidates have declared their candidacy.
This is the proportion of new female candidates for the past four elections:
|Year||No. of new female candidates||No. of new candidates||% female|
Currently, 23% of our parliamentarians are women. While women have come a long way in politics since 1959, we still have a long way to go. Only 4 women have been made full ministers.
Last year, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo, who is also Chairman of the PAP Women’s Wing, highlighted the need to encourage more women to join politics and make their voices heard. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has also seen female politicians praised for their steady leadership. While it is unlikely for Singapore to see a female Prime Minister anytime soon, change comes slowly but surely. With a record number of PAP women standing for elections, we might just redefine what women’s participation in politics looks like.