Last Friday, for the first time in Singapore’s history, 40 female politicians contested seats in parliament — a record figure. The previous record stood was 36, in the 2011 election.
The sovereign island city-state, with a population of almost 6 million that is less than half the size of Sydney, held its election last week and saw an overwhelming win for the People’s Action Party (PAP), which won 83 of 105 seats.
The Party also won won 13 of 14 SMCs (single-member constituencies), including PAP candidate and former Republic of Singapore Air Force brigadier-general Gan Siow Huang, who won her first electoral contest in the newly formed district of Marymount.
She was one of the 10 new female candidates fielded by the PAP for the general election, and only the party’s second female candidate.
The mother of three is Singapore’s first female brigadier-general and a well known trailblazer in the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) where she became the first woman general in 2015.
She told the Strait Times her first priority was to “help residents who are searching for job opportunities and protect their livelihoods and families.”
“I want to make sure that the environment and the infrastructures are adequate to support the elderly and the caregivers.”
Huang, who went to MIT in Boston to study business administration, received a Public Administration Medal (Military) in 2013 for her role as a weapons system officer in the military and was also an executive committee member of the Girl Guides Singapore in 2016 and 2017.
Her party has been the ruling force throughout the last few years, and had 25 women out of its 93 candidates running for seats last week.
Katerina Ang, a reporter at Nikkei Asian Review, believes that the elected composition of the next parliament will be just shy of 30 percent female politicians, a longtime target of activists.
“There has been unprecedented substantive discussion of gender during this campaign,” she wrote last week. “The Workers’ Party manifesto, which dwells at length on issues like the gender pay gap and the need to compensate unpaid household labor, has been praised for its progressiveness. The PAP has dedicated at least two lengthy Facebook Live sessions to issues like violence against women and female participation in the economy.”
In Singapore, women outnumber men in higher education, but the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Index placed Singapore 92nd for political empowerment, lower than South Korea and Indonesia.
More recently, the government’s post-coronavirus economic recovery task force (Emerging Stronger Task Force) included only 2 women out out 17 people.
As Katerina Ang explained, gender parity in political spheres has traditionally been entrenched in discriminatory attitudes against women.
In late June, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) urged legislators to improve gender equality by releasing a 6-point gender equality manifesto, which laid out recommendations including an end to violence against women, equal distribution of domestic work, and the eradication of discrimination based on sexuality, religion and race, among other identities.
The recent spike in female politicians might change things for the better.
Among the other female political candidates who secured a seat on Friday was PAP’s Sun Xueling, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development, where she garnered 61 per cent of the votes. On her campaign trail, Sun focused on issues surrounding cost of living, childcare and aged care facilities.
Sun, who made her political debut in 2015, said after her win, “I have worked hard in the past five years but I recognise that the next five years, we need new solutions and new collaborative efforts.”
“We have a challenging environment to navigate and costs of living, jobs and livelihoods will continue to be areas I will focus on, while ensuring that we have a safe and valued home in Punggol West,” she told Strait Times.