Did you know that in the 1950s, men could legally have multiple wives in Singapore? Back then, women in Singapore were lagging far behind men in many areas. Girls were denied education. Women had problems finding jobs and were paid much less than men. Polygamy was allowed and the rights of wives were not protected.
All these started to change when the PAP started to fight for the Women’s Charter, a landmark piece of legislation that protected the rights of women. After winning the General Elections in June 1959, the PAP Government set out to deliver on its promise to the women of Singapore. In its election manifesto “The Tasks Ahead”, the Party had promised to legislate monogamous marriage, provide jobs for women, ensure equal pay for equal work, care for widows and orphans, and encourage women to be active in politics.
Chan Choy Siong, the PAP representative for Delta and a passionate champion of women’s rights, campaigned for the passing of the Women’s Charter. Speaking in support of the Women’s Charter Bill, Madam Chan said, “This Bill will make (women) fully realise their political, educational, cultural, and economic equality in society. We of the PAP introduce this Bill in order to uphold the rights of women.” Then Minister of Finance Dr Goh Keng Swee also stressed the Party was “moved to do so by deep and profound conviction as to how a good society should be regulated.”
The bill, which was enacted on 24 May 1961, gave women and men equal standing in marriage, and banned polygamy in civil marriages. It also provided protection against family violence and penalty for offences against women and girls. The Women’s Charter was considered a landmark legislation in the women’s movement in Singapore.
Since Singapore became independent in 1965, the PAP Government has made strenuous efforts to enable women to be educated to their fullest ability and their employment to be commensurate with their abilities. The Party believes that every Singaporean, regardless of gender, can play his or her part in contributing to the progress of the country.
Indeed, women in Singapore have made tremendous progress, and their status in our society has changed over the years. The workforce participation rate of females aged 15 years and over was 28.2 per cent in 1970, and it increased to 61.1 per cent in 2019 (about 14 percentage points lower than that of males). The literacy rate for females aged 15 years and above also increased from 54.3 per cent in 1970 to 96.1 per cent in 2019.
In the years since the passing of the Women’s Charter, it has been updated many times, along with other PAP efforts to support Singaporean women. Recently, in 2016 and 2019, it was amended to protect the interests of children affected by their parents’ divorce and to strengthen protection against violence, online vice and vice syndicates.
The women of the PAP are not done speaking up. Together with the Young PAP, our Women’s Wing has been engaging with the community from all walks of life over the past few months, to better understand the challenges and aspirations of women. The insights they have gathered will go into a paper to the Government proposing policies that ensure that women can thrive in Singapore’s digital future; enable women to have more choice at home, at work, and in society; promote more equal sharing of caregiving responsibilities between men and women for our children and elders; and rally the whole of society to advance women’s development while recognising that men in multiple capacities can also help remove barriers.
We will continue our efforts to ensure Singaporean women are safe, equal, and supported.
Top Image: Image of Chan Choy Siong from Singapore Woman’s Hall of Fame.