Mdm Rahayu Mahzam, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (SPS) at the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Law, delivered the opening address at International Women's Day (IWD) 2023 with a fireside chat focused on #EmbraceEquity, the theme of this year's event. Embracing equity means acknowledging that everyone has different circumstances and promoting the fair distribution of resources and opportunities.
During her chat, SPS Rahayu discussed what embracing equity means from her personal perspective. She emphasised that it requires a collective reflection and a community mindset shift. While Singaporean women have made significant progress since independence, more needs to be done to achieve gender-neutral policies and create an ecosystem that supports equity.
As we delve further, we must address crucial matters such as implementing the vision into the practical realm of homes and communities. While we all agree that equity is a vital part of this vision, we must truly internalise its importance by conducting an honest evaluation of our current situation and identifying actionable steps for progress.
SPS Rahayu shared the genesis of conversations on women's equity that started in 2020 due to uproars from the sentencing of a communal matter. During the pandemic, 160 candid conversations were held online with a total of 6,000 participants. The White Paper on women’s development was put up in Parliament and debated, triggering conversations within the community and involving diverse opinions on issues related to gender equity.
She outlined a three-step approach to embracing equity in Singapore, starting with identifying the issue and the starting point, followed by identifying the community and structure and the roles that people need to play, and finally, translating these aspects into actions that are meaningful and fair for everyone.
From a personal standpoint, SPS Rahayu described her deepening journey with advocacy stemming from seasons she experienced in her life, rather than a specific starting point. She reflected on moments in her life that made her realise the need for change, such as her pregnancy journey and her experience with her special needs child. She emphasised the importance of creating safe spaces for discussions about taboo topics and providing equitable opportunities for all.
SPS Rahayu also discussed what the community can do to embrace equity better. She noted that developments are uneven in different spaces, and vulnerable families often face greater gaps. She encouraged the audience to be advocates and to adjust their behaviours through conversations. For example, in the case of online harm against women and girls, SPS Rahayu pointed out that the impact of such harm is more significant on women than men. However, the government identified a gap in the legal recourse and support systems for these women and girls. They often don't know what to do when faced with such a situation. In response, a group of lawyers came together to provide legal advice, demonstrating how identifying gaps and taking action can make a difference in supporting women and girls.
SPS Rahayu reminded the audience that we are part of communities and its collective effort to change the status quo. She encouraged the audience to start being advocates. It is important to know our place and adjust our behaviour through conversations. For her, she is fortunate to have a partner that takes on a significant caregiving role and advises that we can navigate this issue by balancing our expectations. It is important to have conversations and negotiations within our own private spheres, keeping in mind that each family is different and always a work in progress.
Overall, SPS Rahayu’s insightful sharing left the audience with thought-provoking questions and ideas on how to further promote equity. When asked about the status of gender equity in Singapore 10 years from now, she stated, "We should not be satisfied with achieving certain targets. We must go beyond numbers and statistics and focus on the lived realities that demonstrate tangible progress. It's crucial to consider qualitative measures and constantly strive to improve the situation.".
Author: Michelle Chong