Gender bias is deeply embedded in social practices, but education and technology are driving change: Ong Ye Kung – Mothership.SG

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Health Minister Ong Ye Kung urged Singaporean men to participate in creating a “just and equal society.”

Addressing men directly in part of her speech during a debate on the White Paper on Women’s Development in Parliament yesterday (April 5), Ong also called on men to be more supportive of women and look themselves as “equal partners” in society.

Ong says men should try to see things from a woman’s point of view

Ong said that, at the most basic level, men should respect women through their “words and actions.”

He said what may be “less obvious” to men was the “occasional callous comment that reflects an unconscious bias or stereotype.”

She then called on men, as equals, to understand and see things from a woman’s point of view, adding:

“Stop abusing, using diminutives, or doing things in the presence of women that you feel ashamed of.”

Additionally, she urged men to be more proactive in supporting women, taking on tasks that society expects women to do routinely, such as housework or childcare.

Courtesies are welcome.

However, Ong said that men could also “go one step further” and be chivalrous towards women. Ong described himself as “old-fashioned” and said there was much virtue in giving special courtesy to women.

“To be honest, I often feel restless [that] just because I am a Minister, people, including my female staff, will try to carry my bag or open the door for me. I will always try to stop them and offer to open the door for them, and I will often remind them that ‘etiquette comes before protocol,'” she said.

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He added that such acts of courtesy do not diminish the person who receives them, do not imply that the recipient cannot do such things for himself, but rather add a certain “appreciation and complementarity” to the relationship between men and women.

be respectful of others

Ong also spoke directly to young people in Singapore, drawing on his experience as a former Minister of Education.

He said that sex crimes are a “growing problem” among his generation, adding: “Guys may be uncomfortable hearing this, but I think it’s important that they hear it. Never be part of the problem, but be part of the solution.” .”

He urged them to be kind to each other, show respect and courtesy, listen to everyone’s opinions, and make sure games and jokes are kept appropriate and in good taste, “not from your point of view, but from theirs.” “.

Traditional social expectations of women are increasingly under scrutiny

Ong said it was through the eyes of her daughters that she best understood the lived experience of societal expectations and prejudices.

Sharing some personal anecdotes from her experience raising two daughters, Ong said family members frequently asked her: ‘When will you have sons?’

His wife would reply that he was happy with two girls. But Ong wondered what his daughters would think of such conversations.

Her eldest daughter was a girl when she found out and was shocked by the concept of dowries.

Trying to explain, Ong’s wife replied that it was a Chinese tradition for the girl to “marry outside” the family.

Ong said this seemed to annoy his young daughter even more, who exclaimed, “So this is like a transaction: will they sell me?”

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She then tried to “make things better” by explaining that money flowed both ways, that in some cultures the bride’s family provides the dowry in recognition that the husband incurs costs to care for the wife.

“It was not a useful intervention. I would say it was a very poorly answered SQ. We left it at that,” Ong said, referring to follow-up questions that MPs would ask in Parliament.

Education and technology are ‘great equalizers’

Ong said that human society has long been organized according to gender roles, beginning with hunter-gatherer tribes in ancient times, and such deeply ingrained practices cannot be undone in a generation.

However, he acknowledges that such views are being challenged by education and technology, which have become “great equalizers.”

“With equal opportunities for education and development, women can now access vocations and professions that were historically dominated by men.

Education as a driving force for equality is driven by the advancement of technology. What once required physical strength can now be automated or performed by machines.

Neither men nor women are better at numerical calculation, neither more empathetic nor more meticulous. It’s individuals who have various strengths and weaknesses.”

Ong cited her experience as a former Transport Minister, where she met many female engineers, and her fellow MPs from the Sembawang GRC, Mariam Jaffar and Poh Li San, a trained engineer and helicopter pilot, respectively.

The status quo is challenged, but there are inherent differences between men and women

Ong acknowledged that there were prejudices in society that needed to be corrected, but that there were “inherent differences” between men and women that “cannot be ignored and should continue to exist.” This makes the push for equality a “high-profile, long-term” effort.

“Many women I know, including my wife, are against gender bias in society, but they will also fiercely protect the difference between women and men,” Ong said.

Ong quoted the late Mother Teresa, who said:

‘I don’t understand why some people say that women and men are exactly the same and deny the beautiful differences between men and women…

As I often say to people who tell me they would like to serve the poor as I do: “What I can do, you can’t. What you can do, I can’t. But together we can do something beautiful for God.” So it is with the differences between women and men.’

He cited examples such as how a daughter will always have a “special bond” with her parents, which is different than a son’s relationship with his parents.

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He also said that a mother’s maternal instinct is “irreplaceable”, stemming from having to carry the child for nine months, which manifests itself in mothers who want to breastfeed their children after birth.

Ong then quoted Hollywood star Denzel Washington, who said: ‘A mother is a child’s first true love (when born). A son…is a mother’s last true love (when she dies).’

The White Paper strikes a balance between defending equal opportunities and recognizing the differences between men and women

Because of these differences, Ong said that women had “special roles” to play in their families and in society.

“However, where does the recognition of inherent differences end and prejudice and stereotyping begin? It is a very difficult and delicate question, for which I have no answer,” he said.

Ong said that the recommendations in the White Paper took special care to uphold equality, especially in opportunities, while recognizing the differences between men and women.

The document includes “practical initiatives” such as anti-discrimination measures in the workplace, flexible work arrangements, greater support for caregivers, allowing elective egg freezing and advocating harsher penalties for sex offences.

After a 9.5-hour debate in Parliament, the White Paper was unanimously approved by Parliament.

Watch Ong’s full speech here.

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Top photo via MCI/YouTube