Who on Earth started saying that women were the weaker sex?
I am lucky to be a woman in Singapore, a country that places a heavy emphasis on meritocracy — where women and men are placed generally equal on the pedestal of opportunities. After all, two elements of the Singapore flag represents that– the red for universal brotherhood (or sisterhood, if you will), and one of the five white stars standing for equality.
But one aspect still sticks out like a sore thumb: the lack of female representation in politics.
Yes, there has been an increase in the figures in recent years.
Yes, it is still early days.
Yes, I’ve been called an angry feminazi one too many times.
But are the numbers significant enough to create a movement that will change the mindset of the fairer sex in Singapore?
Besides, the recent female candidates in Singapore aren’t in the news for their work or mission. But more for their ‘sexual appeal’ or personal lives.
Politics will, and always had, the stigma as being a men’s game. Particularly in a — as much as we refuse to admit– conservative society like Singapore where traditional gender roles stick in our psyches.
And with that thought in mind, I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list to celebrate the female movers and shakers in the politics of Singapore.
1. Elizabeth Choy
Good ol Liz eh? War heroine, Singaporean icon, and all round awesome lady! Aside from her selfless efforts in charity work and championing rights for marginalised of society, she too made history in politics by being the first Singaporean woman to be elected to the Legislative Council in 1951.
She served for a full five-year term, representing Singapore at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953.
As a liberal, she stood for stand for elections under the left wing Labour Party in December 1950 for the West Ward or Cairnhill constituency. She even included a nude photograph of herself at a local art exhibition in 1998!
2. Sylvia Lim
A familiar face in Singaporean politics, Lim’s victory in Aljunied GRC at the 2011 General Elections made her the first female opposition MP in Singapore’s post-independence history.
Her mercurial rise to leadership in the Workers’ Party of Singapore is truly respectable, since joining in 2001, she rose to become the chairman in just two years.
3. Halimah Yacob
Halimah is a woman of ‘firsts’– the first female chosen to be the Speaker Parliament of Singapore and Malay woman to be elected an MP. She’s definitely a face you’ve seen on the telly if you watch parliament sessions.
She’s also a champion of social issues, ranging from training for older and less skilled workers, to caring for the elderly and mentally ill.
No wonder she was chosen as Berita Harian/McDonalds “Achiever of the Year” in 2001 and Her World’s Woman of the Year in 2004.
4. Chan Choy Siong
Chan is considered one of the a pioneering female politicians and activists for women’s concerns, particularly in initiating the Women’s Charter. Raised from humble origins, Chan spent the entirety of her school life aiding her father in his chee cheong fun store as he put her through school at Nanyang Girls.
Not only a hard worker, she too is a risk taker — joining the People’s Action Party (PAP) at the age of only 20, five months after the party was inaugurated in October 1954.
Although she passed away tragically in a car crash at the age of 49, her legacy left behind will always be appreciated by Singaporean women.
5. Ho Puay Choo
Before Sylvia Lim, we had Ho, who is considered the first female opposition member of parliament. She joined the PAP in 1955, before being elected into the Legislative Assembly (then-Parliament) in 1957.
In 1962, after being dissatisfied with the terms of Merger, Ho resigned in a huff.
Her bravery in going against the grain and tenacity in speaking up for political detainees during Operation Coldstore on peaceful petition to seek their release is truly commendable!
6. Kanwaljit Soin
Surgeon Dr Soin made history in 1992 by being the first female Nominated Member of Parliament for Singapore, and in the same year, won the Woman of the Year award! This is just the beginning of numerous international awards that she is decorated with in the years to come.
From “Women Who Make a Difference Award” by the International Women’s Forum, Washington D.C. in 2000 to even theLifetime Achievement Award by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) 6 years later.
As the AWARE President from 1991 to 1993, she advocated not only gender equality and women’s rights, but also represented the marginalised in society and gave them a voice.
7. Linda Chen Mock Hock
Chen was always highly involved in politics ever since her college days being a member of the University Socialist Club. She was one of the active student leaders involved in the formation of the Pan-Malayan Students’ Federation (PMSF).
A pioneer advocate for women’s rights, she was the founder and secretary of the Federation of Women in 1956. However, it was too on that same year that she was detained and the Federation of Women clamped down for apparent links to communism due to Chen’s Chinese education.
Despite all the adversities faced by her, Chen still continued concern on the status and position of women in society, and her actions are revered by us till today.
The youngest on this list. Yet. Premikha was recently nominated as the first female Prime Minister of the Singapore Model Parliament.
The 20 year old, who matriculated into the National University of Singapore (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, will take on the role of the prime minister in the event, which involves guiding other members in the model parliament.
Don’t be fooled by the term ‘model parliament’ though! As Neil Armstrong is famously said, ‘that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’
Maybe we’ll finally see a female PM in parliament in our lifetime huh?
Women heading the right direction
Although it is true that we should not have women in politics for the sake of having women, their presence will nonetheless convince Singaporeans that the abilities of our female politicians throughout history have been nothing short of extraordinary.
Regardless of how progressive society attempts to portray itself, deep rooted notions about women as the weaker sex will always play a part in our decision making. Thus, the onus is on us as a generation to slowly eradicate these archaic perspectives, slowly but surely. Starting with getting inspired by this very article right on your phone screen!