Singapore—Minister for Law and for Home Affairs K Shanmugam was interviewed by Ms Lin Suling on CNA’s Heart of the Matter podcast, posted on September 24 (Thursday), concerning women’s issues and gender equality. He also touched on the issue of women in National Service.
The interview was in connection with Mr Shanmugam’s announcement on Sunday (Sept 20) that the Government plans to release a White Paper on women’s development in the first half of next year, after undertaking a major review of gender equality in the country, which is to be spearheaded by Sun Xueling, Low Yen Ling and Rahayu Mahzam.
In the interview, he was asked concerning the cases of sexual offences that have made the news of late. He reiterated that beyond crafting stiffer laws to punish sexual misconduct are the more fundamental issues of accepting gender equality.
He added, “I felt that there was room, and my Cabinet colleagues felt that there was room, to try and engender a different spirit in society. So here we are talking about the soul, not just about punishment.”
With gender equality becoming more deeply ingrained, Mr Shanmugam expressed the hope that those who would commit sexual offences “will be less inclined, or they will understand the consequences much more, and then they will not treat it like a prank or something to satisfy themselves, they will more carefully consider that they should not do.”
The Minister talked at length about the different issue revolving around gender equality, but one of the most interesting topics came toward the end of the interview, when he was asked about women in National Service.
Lin Suling asked him, “One of the feedback that we often hear when news of women’s issues are covered is the comment that, ‘Look, women have it good already in Singapore. If we want to push the envelope and we want to give them more benefits, do they want to serve national service?’ How would you respond to that?”
The minister laughed, and answered, “I will ask those people to go and try being a woman And get through their lives in reality. And see the challenges that women go through.”
The interviewer then asked “What is the government role when there are a thorny issues, when there are disagreements?”
“I think laws and policies can both lead and set the tone and shape discussions and they must also often reflect social values and what people believe in.” However, he added, “Sometimes the government has to take and set the lead even when the bulk of society is not ready for it.”
Answering a question as to whether he is uncomfortable with talking about women’s issues, as a man, Mr Shanmugam said he has felt no discomfort in discussing women’s issues.
“I don’t look at lawyers as a male lawyer or a female lawyer. They’re just lawyers. There is a job to be done and they do it. So I approach it from a gender-blind, color-blind approach…. I suspect many would take the same approach. I hope so anyway.”
In his announcement last Sunday the Minister said, “Every boy and girl must grow up imbibing the value of gender equality. They need to be taught from a very early age that boys and girls are to be treated equally, and very importantly, with respect. It has to be a deep mindset change.
When you internalise that, what then happens? Society’s whole outlook on a variety of gender issues are much easier to change. Sexual violence is then not just an offence that a man commits against a woman. It is a deep violation of fundamental values.”—/TISG