Society 'has duty to help women juggle roles'

It is society's duty to help women juggle their various responsibilities, and employers must ensure that human resource policies and practices do not work against women, said Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

He spoke of the growing role of women in society at an exhibition and seminar promoting lifelong learning among women yesterday.

More women today face dilemmas and challenges in juggling family and career responsibilities, he said at the event at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

"All of us - men, women, society at large - have a duty to help women to juggle competing responsibilities," he said.

He said job listings for high-level or senior leadership roles tend to seek assertive, outgoing, results- focused and dynamic candidates, and that "we need to also value qualities such as being nurturing, to have empathy, patience and thoughtfulness".

He urged organisations to look for fairer criteria in evaluating capabilities and contributions. Career development schemes should not have an age requirement as it may disadvantage those who took time off to start a family, he said.

Women all over the world have made great strides in leadership, he noted, citing South Korean President Park Geun Hye and General Motors chief executive Mary Barra.

In Singapore, more women are advancing in their careers and professional roles, and more are joining the military, said Mr Ong, who is also Senior Minister of State for Defence.

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The labour participation rate for women aged 25 to 64 is about 72 per cent today. Although it is lower than that for men - which is about 80 per cent - it is high by international standards, he added.

In politics, the number of elected MPs who are women has doubled since the early 2000s to 22 now, he said. Both the Speaker of Parliament - Madam Halimah Yacob - and Leader of the House - Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu - are women.

"In Singapore, we are a great respecter of women. We place great emphasis on education and development because people are our capital," he said. "That is really the only reason such a tiny country gets to play on the world stage."

He also paid tribute to the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, for being a key advocate of the rights of women here, noting that she and other activists put their ideas into the landmark 1961 Women's Charter, which is still in place today to protect Singaporean women.

Over 500 women visited the exhibition by the People's Association Women's Integration Network Council, which had booths by 11 SkillsFuture training providers. It aimed to raise awareness of the options and grants available to help women make better use of their SkillsFuture credits.

Housewife Helen Teo, 58, who was keen on a hospitality and tourism diploma and dim sum-making course, said: "This event opened my eyes to the courses I can take. It's also a push for me to get out of my house and do something."

This article was first published on March 21, 2016.
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