DPM Lawrence Wong at the PPIS 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner

DPM Lawrence Wong | 6 December 2022

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the PPIS 70th Anniversary Gala Dinner on 6 December 2022.

PPIS President and CEO Madam Hazlina Halim and Tuminah Sapawi,
Parliamentary Colleagues,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to join all of you today at the 70th anniversary of the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association or PPIS. It truly feels like a family gathering and it is very good to see many old friends here. Let me begin with a few words in Malay.

Tahniah PPIS atas ulang tahun anda yang ke-tujuh puluh!

PPIS memainkan peranan penting memperkasa wanita dan keluarga di Singapura.

Daripada sebuah badan kecil, PPIS berkembang menjadi salah satu badan utama berkhidmat untuk masyarakat Islam hari ini.

Dengan kerjasama erat, banyak yang telah kita capai untuk bantu wanita Islam Singapura maju, dan saya yakin, banyak lagi yang boleh kita lakukan.

Saya sokong sepenuhnya visi PPIS untuk membentuk “Masyarakat Wanita Berjaya dan Keluarga Berkembang Maju”. Ini akan perlukan usaha seluruh masyarakat.

Oleh itu, mari kita terus berganding bahu untuk jadikan ia kenyataan.

Bersama, kita boleh bina sebuah masyarakat yang lebih adil dan inklusif.

Women have played pivotal roles in all our lives, as our mothers, our wives, our sisters and our daughters. They are often the pillar of strength in our families, and the earliest role models in our lives.

I can relate to this from my own personal experience, especially when I think about my own mother, who is now 82 years old.

When my mother was growing up, in the days when the family had a home in Kampong Amber, my grandfather felt that only boys needed an education. Many of you can maybe relate to that from your parents’ time too. My mother was asked to do the housework at home and to help look after the younger children in the extended family in the kampong. But my mother from young could not stand for such an unequal treatment, so she created a huge fuss and my grandfather had no choice but to relent and send her to school.

By then, she was already 2 years behind her peers. She was 2 years older than everyone else in school, but she treasured the opportunity to have the chance for an education. She studied hard and she worked at the same time, doing odd jobs in the kampong, because her family needed the money. And eventually she caught up with her peers, and she even became a teacher later in life!

Before she retired, she was literally a superwoman. For her, it was not about choosing between work and family. Because she did it all – managing her teaching load, raising the family, and taking care of the household chores, all without any domestic help at home.

The unequal treatment my mother faced, I believe, is not unique. Many women in her generation went through something similar. In Singapore’s early years, many parents were reluctant to send their daughters to school, and women mostly did domestic work. In fact, only a third of women were literate back then. But over the years, we have done much in Singapore to empower and to equalise opportunities for women.

Through the Women’s Charter, we have institutionalised the equal standing of men and women in marriage and strengthened the protection of women in Singapore. We also invested heavily in universal education for all, paving the way for girls to enter the workforce and achieve their aspirations.

Because of all these efforts, Singapore was recently ranked 7th worldwide for gender equality in the latest UN Human Development Report, but we are the only Asian country amongst the Top 10.

And indeed, over the years, you can see around us that women have achieved very good outcomes in Singapore. In schools, men and women have comparable educational outcomes and achievements. In fact, I would say the girls tend to do better than the boys, because they mature earlier, and the boys are too playful. So the girls tend to do better in school these days. We also see more women taking up leadership positions in the private and public sectors, and making substantial contributions to Singapore.

All this is the result of the strong partnership between the Government and a wide range of community organisations in Singapore. In particular, PPIS has played an integral role in empowering women and strengthening families in Singapore for the past 70 years.

You have come a long way since your humble beginnings.

In your early years, you have helped Muslim women cultivate financial and personal independence through skills like cooking and sewing, as well as religious and literacy courses.

You advocated for more legal protection for women in the areas of marriage and divorce. In particular, Madam Khatijun, a co-founder of PPIS, was at the forefront of these efforts, which eventually led to the formation of the Syariah Court in Singapore. She had also become the first woman counsellor at the Syariah Court.

Today, PPIS has grown substantially and continued to support the cause of Singapore women in so many different ways. You run 17 centres offering a suite of social services to support not just Malay-Muslim women and families, but also Singaporeans from all races and religions. Your services include Family Service Centres, preschools, and fostering services, just to name a few. And as you heard just now from your President, PPIS also operates the first secular, all-women halfway house in Singapore, to help women offenders reintegrate into society.

So on your 70th anniversary, I should put on record my thanks and appreciation to everyone in PPIS for your steadfast service, all these years and decades, and for your many important contributions to women’s development in Singapore!

Of course, despite the significant advancement of women in Singapore, our society is very much a work-in-progress. We all know that gender gaps still exist and there is still much work ahead of us.

Women still bear a disproportionate share of caregiving at home – be it taking care of children or elderly parents.

Women continue to face disadvantages at work, where they may be perceived as less capable, especially in more male-dominated industries like in Science, Technology, or Engineering.

All these can dissuade women from pursuing their passion or their career aspirations.

We can and must certainly do more in Singapore to advance the cause of women.

We must work towards a more equal partnership between men and women in our families. And the men need to do our part too, to support women in having more equal partnership in our families. Because families are where this partnership is nurtured and where fathers can be more involved in parenting, in the caring for their children, and also can be more involved in domestic work too.

We should also better support our caregivers, many of whom are women, so they can continue to care for their loved ones.

And we must reduce the barriers which continue to hold back women in the workplace, especially discriminatory practices.

To address all of these issues, the Government had published the White Paper on Singapore Women's Development earlier this year. This was done after a year-long nationwide engagement and consultation. The White Paper was developed together with the public and community partners, including PPIS, and it sets out a roadmap for the next decade on how we can better support women and their families in Singapore.

But as we all know, the Government efforts alone will not be enough. Because a key barrier to advancing the cause of women in Singapore is not government policies or employer corporate practices. It is the persistence of deep seated and entrenched gender stereotypes. And, addressing these will take a whole-of-society effort.

Men must do more to embrace our caregiving responsibilities, and not assume that women are somehow better suited to such roles.

Employers will need to foster family-friendly practices and adopt progressive workplace practices. They need to do their best to reduce the stigma that men face when taking leave to care for their children, and do more to empower women to realise their potential and take up leadership positions in organisations.

Parents and teachers have an important role to play. They need to encourage boys and girls to respect one another, and not be limited by gender stereotypes, including their career choices.

Community organisations like PPIS will remain crucial to all of these efforts.

This is why I am happy that on your 70th Anniversary tonight, you have decided to launch a new programme to further support women in Singapore. In particular, PPIS will be launching its first scholarship for women, in collaboration with Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud (LBKM) for women to pursue post-graduate courses.

The scholarship is aimed at developing women leaders within the Malay-Muslim community - it covers not just areas like community and social work, and women’s studies, but also courses that are traditionally dominated by men like Science, Technology, and Engineering.

I hope that through these efforts, we can continue to grow the number of female role models for the Malay-Muslim community and we can truly show that there are no limits to what women can achieve here in Singapore.

The good work that PPIS does would not be possible without the contributions of all your donors and volunteers.

Some have been contributing for a long time and some have been volunteering with PPIS for many years, even more than a decade.

Your generosity and strong support for women’s development and strengthening families is truly inspiring. Let us give a round of applause to all of you!

Ultimately, to create a fairer and more equal society in Singapore, all of us – as individuals, community organisations, employers and the Government – will have to do our part. This is a collective and shared responsibility. I commend PPIS for 70 years of dedicated contributions in this very important cause, and I look forward to many more years of partnership with all of you. Together, we can build a better and more resilient future for women and families in Singapore. Thank you very much.