Singapore Election Sees Record Number of Women Vying for Votes

Women are poised to score historic wins in Singapore’s elections, as a record number of female candidates contest seats on Friday’s ballot.

Forty women are running in the election, up from 35 in 2015. The number expected to enter parliament is likely to be a far cry from just four elected women who sat in the legislature at the start of the century.

The rise in female candidates will trim a gender gap in the city-state’s traditionally male-dominant political landscape and has influenced key campaign concerns.

“We are 50% of the population, and we do have issues that we feel strongly about, and I think we need to have a voice in parliament,” Grace Fu, the minister for culture, community and youth, said in a People’s Action Party video, noting she wants to inspire more women to run. “Women MPs have shown they are very competent, they probably file a lot more questions and make more speeches in parliament, and they have really proven themselves.”

Gender Issues

Gender issues have been a central focus this election.

The opposition Workers’ Party manifesto calls for employers to report their gender pay gap and subsidies for mothers in unpaid care work. The ruling People’s Action Party has highlighted support given to families during the city-state’s Circuit Breaker period, and promised to enhance subsidies for preschool education. It also raised issues like violence against women in live online chats conducted during the election hustings.

The PAP, which has ruled Singapore since its independence, increased the slate of female candidates it fielded this election to 25, five higher than the previous vote in 2015. Among them are Gan Siow Huang, the country’s first woman brigadier-general, and Mariam Jaafar, Singapore managing director and partner for Boston Consulting Group.

Singapore’s only elected opposition party in parliament, The Worker’s Party, counts five women -- the same number in 2015 -- out of 21 candidates this year. The five include the party’s chair Sylvia Lim and four campaign hopefuls with young children. The Progress Singapore Party, a new party founded by former ruling party members, is fielding a similar number.

Barriers

“There are institutional and systemic barriers that women face into politics, and one of them is actually barriers to their careers and to their education, because we expect politicians to reach a certain pedigree before they step forward,” said Raeesah Khan, a first-time Workers’ Party candidate, in a party video. Unequal burdens at home, such as unbalanced caregiving and household work, also contribute to a gap, she said.

The PAP’s Fu said women have a fair shot in school and university education. She noted women still face challenges in the business sector, and “that’s really holding us back.”

There’s still a long way to go.

The political scene continues to be mostly male-dominated, with female candidates outnumbered four-to-one in this election, according to Corinna Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research, a gender equality advocacy group in Singapore. The Southeast Asian nation was ranked 92nd for political empowerment in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Index, lagging behind neighboring Indonesia.

“This election has changed something,” Lim said. “We see greater diversity, and even if women run and don’t get in, it makes a difference because the next person will be inspired.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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