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Speech By Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister In The Prime Minister’s Office And Second Minister For Finance And Education, at Great Women of Our Time 2018 Award Presentation, On 5 October 2018, 7.30pm at Sinfonia Ristorante

05 Oct 2018

Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen


1. Good evening. It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight at the Great Women of Our Time Awards.

2. We are gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of women, and among them is the reality that women are multi-taskers. Women juggle multiple responsibilities at work and at home. Besides working, they often take on the role of caregiving - looking after children, the elderly and other family members, as well as managing household chores.

3. Due to their circumstances, some women face the need to devote more time to one of these responsibilities. They may be forced to make difficult choices in their careers and family life.   
      a. Some women leave the workforce to care for family members.
      b. According to a McKinsey survey of female professionals who decided to leave their full-time careers, 4 in 10 cited family as a major factor in their decision – whether to care for a child or another family member.

4. For women who stay in the workforce, they will not only have to balance between work and family, but also take charge of their own career progression and personal pursuits.

What can we do?

5. So the question is, what can all of us do to empower women and to support one another’s needs, whether family responsibilities, work aspirations and personal desires?
     a. For a start, please do think of how you can support colleagues who are caregivers, or have family commitments. You may be supervising other women in the workplace - consider how to help them manage their work and family commitments. Perhaps your company can consider implementing flexible work arrangements, and work-from-home arrangements?
     b. There is also a need for women to raise awareness of men’s responsibilities and roles as fathers, husbands and members of the family.
          i. I urge everyone to find out more about Dads for Life. It is a national movement that aims to involve fathers actively in their children’s lives. They organise workshops, to equip new fathers with confidence and skills to manage their new roles and responsibilities.
          ii. So women – help the men in your families gain confidence to take on greater parenting responsibilities.
     c. Outside of home, you are capable of excelling in your chosen fields of profession and areas of interest.
          i. There are more opportunities for today’s generation of women than earlier generations, built on the basis on meritocracy. So actively seize these opportunities to achieve your fullest potential!
          ii. For those in senior management in your organisations, I urge you to remember and recognise the importance of female representation at the top, which helps businesses to make better decisions. Women bring different perspectives and businesses should consider women who are qualified for the positions to join their boards.
          iii. I was heartened to hear that this year, for the first time, the majority of Singapore-listed companies now have at least one woman on their boards, and women’s share of board seats on Singapore-listed companies have continued to grow at a steady pace. Keep up the good work!

How can the Government help?

6. For its part, the Government also has a role to play in helping to lighten the load of women, especially those who wish to stay in the workforce.

7. Working mothers need to be reassured that their children are well taken care of while they are at work. We have ramped up our efforts to provide good quality and affordable preschool to support working mothers, and will continue to do so.
     a. The Government has been increasing the number of preschool places, and will introduce another 40,000 more places in the next five years, especially in estates with more young families. Most will be built alongside HDB Build-To-Order developments to meet the needs of residents. The Early Childhood Development Agency is also working with other agencies to locate preschools in workplaces, commercial developments and near transport nodes for the convenience of parents.
     b. The affordability and quality of preschools have also improved with more places provided by the Anchor and Partner Operators which are subjected to fee caps and quality requirements. In addition, there are MOE Kindergartens to provide quality preschool education. Together with preschool subsidies, working mothers can be assured that quality preschool can be affordable.

8. Besides pre-school, we have stepped up our support for those who are caregivers, many of whom are women.
     a. Singles are a key source of caregiving support within their families. In Budget 2018, we enhanced the Proximity Housing Grant for singles, to help them purchase a flat with, or near, their parents.
     b. We are also strengthening community support, and improving the delivery of services for the elderly, to reduce the burden of caregivers. We will be expanding the Community Networks for Seniors nationwide by 2020 to improve the lives of many seniors. We are also consolidating social- and health-related services for seniors and their caregivers under the Agency for Integrated Care.
     c. And as for mothers caring for young children – you can involve your husbands with caregiving! The Government has implemented two weeks of mandatory Government-Paid Paternity Leave for fathers, to encourage greater shared parental responsibility. We also have the Shared Parental Leave, which was recently enhanced, to allow working fathers to share up to 4 weeks of their wife’s maternity leave.

9. To help women chart their career progression, we have also worked to promote an enabling environment with abundant opportunities made available.     
     a. For instance, the Diversity Action Committee (DAC) was set up in 2014 to improve women’s representation on boards of companies in Singapore and expand the pool of board-ready women in Singapore, by working with companies to embrace gender diversity in the workplace.
     b. Besides this, women can benefit from the Government’s Adapt and Grow package of schemes, which will allow them to upskill and make career transitions. This could include switching jobs, or even moving from one industry to another.
     c. Women can also tap on education and training subsidies such as the SkillsFuture Credit, to expand their skillsets or further their personal interests outside of work.

10. Besides encouraging women to stay in the workforce, we also want to help non-working women get back into the workforce.
     a. The Government has been encouraging companies to offer flexible work arrangements to employees. Such flexibility is important to help workers meet both their career and family aspirations. To encourage more employers to offer flexible work arrangements, we have also enhanced our Work-Life Grant.
     b. We also supported NTUC on its Returners Job Trial, and encourage companies to offer more job-sharing opportunities for those who are not ready to return to full-time employment.

Overcoming challenges, giving back to society

11. Tonight’s awards honour women who are game-changers and trail-blazers in Singapore. These women inspire us through their words and actions, and also their warmth and kindness. These women have overcome their personal challenges, succeeded beyond expectations, and most importantly, given back to society.
     a. Take for example, Public Service & Education nominee Judith Knight who founded Wings Therapy and Learning Centre.
          i. Judith thrived during her long tenure at an international public relations firm, and did this while raising a child diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy at birth.
          ii. Not only was Judith driven by a desire to improve her son’s quality of life – she made previously inaccessible therapies available to other families here by setting up Wings Therapy & Learning Centre.
     b. Another inspiring example will be Health, Sports & Wellness nominee Vanessa Paranjothy, who co-founded Freedom Cups.
          i. Not afraid to challenge taboos, Vanessa and her sisters sought to champion a change in the way women face menstruation issues. They distribute menstrual cups around the world to women in need and sell them to those who can afford them.
          ii. In a sense, the use of menstrual cups helps women in developed countries reduce waste. But more importantly, women in underprivileged communities who used to have limited access to feminine hygiene products have benefited significantly from their cause.

12. Even as we recognise the achievements of many role models here tonight, let us not forget the many inspiring women who came before us, such as the Pioneer Generation, and those PM referred to at the National Day Rally – the Merdeka Generation.
     a. The Prime Minister noted that many women of the Merdeka Generation did not complete their education. They started work early to support the family and younger siblings. All of them started work when wages were very low. Despite the many challenges they faced, that generation worked very hard to bring up their families, and contributed to the growth of Singapore in the past few decades.
     b. Many of you here are children and grandchildren of the Pioneer and Merdeka generation. Let us remember and thank these generations of women who raised us and nurtured us, despite the difficult circumstances and poverty they faced during Singapore’s formative years.


13. To the ladies here nominated for the awards tonight – thank you for being an inspiration to all of us, having overcome personal challenges to achieve success in your chosen fields. I hope that you will continue to be excellent role models for many more women in Singapore and worldwide, and continue to give back to society with your many talents and pursuits.

14. Thank you and have a lovely evening.