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MOE will ensure greater alignment of gender, sexuality education across schools and institutions: Sun Xueling

gender equality in education singapore

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education (MOE) will pay closer attention to ensuring greater alignment of gender-related content taught by schools and the institutes of higher learning (IHLs).

Minister of State for Education and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said on Monday (Dec 21) that the ministry will also work with schools to share resources on gender education and issues like respect.

The various IHLs have their own curriculum on the teaching of respect and boundaries for students and staff, she said.

"What the MOE hopes to do is to work with the IHLs closely to ensure greater standardisation of the modules that are used, and also to share resources... and to look at the cases that have come up and to also standardise the protocols and our responses to issues that arise," she added.

Ms Sun was speaking to the media after a virtual engagement session organised by the MOE and National Youth Council (NYC).

The session, which was also attended by NYC chief executive David Chua, involved about 100 IHL students, and focused on the issues that women face in schools.

This is the first such conversation with students from higher learning institutions, as part of a national review of issues that affect women at home, in schools, workplaces and the community that was earlier announced in September.

The ideas and suggestions gathered through these dialogues, which started in October, will form the basis of a White Paper to be tabled in Parliament in the first half of next year.

In her remarks after Monday's session, Ms Sun, who is co-leading the review with Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, and Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam, said: "What really stuck in my mind was that our students have expressed a deep desire to have a culture of respect between the genders."

Ms Sun noted that as part of the updated character and citizenship education (CCE) curriculum that will kick in next year, there will be greater emphasis on moral values, cyber wellness and respecting boundaries for self and others both online and offline.

Other topics raised on Monday included the need to provide a safe environment for young people, in the context of recent sexual misconduct cases in universities.

This includes equipping "students with age-appropriate knowledge, so that they know how to protect themselves against online sexual grooming, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and also how to recognise inappropriate behaviour, and to understand the legal consequences, and socio-emotional impact that such offences can have", said Ms Sun.

She said that the refreshed CCE curriculum will address the key challenges that youth today face, for instance with the widespread usage of social media.

"There are now a variety of influences and challenges that come about through social media, that come about through popular culture. The MOE is aware of it," she said.

"What is important is that we have age-appropriate content, and we also use scenarios to help our young better understand what they can do when they are faced with challenging situations."

Online sexual grooming, abuse of teacher-student relationships and voyeurism are some of the ministry's concerns, she said.

"In our curriculum, there are actually specific scenarios that are painted for each of these potential situations, and what students can do about their feelings on the matter, and who they can consult."

One example is a tuition teacher who behaves inappropriately with a child, and in such a lesson, the teachers in class would share what students need to do so they know how to react in such situations, said Ms Sun.

Apart from sexuality and gender education in schools, the students on Monday also shared concerns about gender stereotypes, and how these could affect the perceptions of job competencies and types of careers that young people go into.

Some participants highlighted how certain tertiary-level courses like nursing and social work tend to have more females, for instance.

Ms Sun said that through education and career guidance in schools, the MOE will ensure that students will be able to explore a variety of pathways, and at the same time address gender-based biases that may limit their aspirations.

"There is a role for schools to play in ensuring that... students should look at their innate qualities, what their strengths are and not be impeded by mental models of what they think," she said.

Schools will also help to bring about greater awareness of gender equality in the context of the home, she added.

"The MOE will address the equity of family roles in contributing to the family in the refreshed CCE 2021 curriculum and students will learn to appreciate equity of parenting roles, regardless of gender and the importance of not ascribing gender stereotypes in parenting," she said.

"At the end of the day, we want to nurture positive mindsets and attitudes towards the equity of roles in the family, starting from a young age."

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Globally, some progress on women’s rights has been achieved. In Singapore, 0.1% of women aged 20–24 years old who were married or in a union before age 18. The adolescent birth rate is 2.1 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 as of 2019, down from 2.5 per 1,000 in 2018. As of February 2021, 29.5% of seats in parliament were held by women.

However, work still needs to be done in Singapore to achieve gender equality. In 2018, 2.4% of women aged 15-49 years reported that they had been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months.

As of december 2020, only 36.9% of indicators needed to monitor the SDGs from a gender perspective were available, with gaps in key areas, in particular: unpaid care and domestic work and key labour market indicators, such as the gender pay gap. In addition, many areas – such as gender and poverty, physical and sexual harassment, women’s access to assets (including land), and gender and the environment – lack comparable methodologies for reguar monitoring. Closing these gender data gaps is essential for achieving gender-related SDG commitments in Singapore.

Gender data gaps and country performance

For this score, we use the 72 gender-specific SDG indicators in the Women Count Data Hub’s SDG Dashboard for the 193 UN Member States. For each indicator, we calculate the 33rd and 66th percentiles of the distribution and, based on those two values, countries are classified as belonging to high performance, medium performance and low performance categories. For more details, see the methodological note and the article “We now have more gender-related SDG data than ever, but is it enough?”

  • Low performance
  • Medium performance
  • High performance
  • Missing data

Country score - Singapore

Average region score - asia, inclusive development, shared prosperity and decent work, 1.1.1 employed population below international poverty line. age 15+., 1.3.1 proportion of population above statutory pensionable age receiving a pension., 8.5.2 unemployment rate. age 15+., social protection, poverty and freedom from violence, stigma & stereotypes, 1.3.1 proportion of mothers with newborns receiving maternity cash benefit., 2.1.2 prevalence of severe food insecurity in the adult population (%)., 3.1.1 maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births)., 3.7.2 adolescent birth rate (per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years)., literacy rate, age 15+., rate of out of school children. primary and lower secondary education., 5.2.1 proportion of ever-partnered women and girls subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months. age 15-49., 5.3.1 proportion of women aged 20-24 years who were married or in a union before age 18 (%), before age 15. before age 18., 5.4.1 proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic chores and care work. all locations., political participation, accountability and gender-responsive institutions, 5.1.1 legal frameworks that promote, enforce and monitor gender equality (percentage of achievement, 0 - 100), area 1: overarching legal frameworks and public life, area 2: violence against women, area 3: employment and economic benefits, area 4: marriage and family, proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (% of total number of seats), proportion of elected seats held by women in deliberative bodies of local government, proportion of women in managerial positions, proportion of women in senior and middle management positions, 5.c.1 proportion of countries with systems to track and make public allocations for gender equality and women's empowerment., environmental, environmental conservation, protection and rehabilitation, 3.9.1 age-standardized mortality rate attributed to household air pollution (deaths per 100,000 population)., 6.1.1 proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services, by urban/rural., 7.1.2 proportion of population with primary reliance on clean fuels and technology., gender-specific indicators.

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Last Updated: 07 February 2023

Sexuality Education: Scope and teaching approach

Sexuality Education is conducted in schools from Primary 5 to junior colleges and Millennia Institute. Find out what your child learns at each stage.

The MOE Sexuality Education curriculum is holistic and secular. It is taught through:

  • Science lessons.
  • Character and Citizenship Education lessons in primary schools, secondary schools, junior colleges and Millennia Institute.
  • eTeens programme in secondary schools, junior colleges and Millennia Institute.

It is taught in the context of mainstream national values, according to students' developmental needs. Our Sexuality Education curriculum is anchored on Singapore’s prevailing family values and social norms, which the majority of Singaporeans want to uphold. Marriage is defined as being a union between a man and a woman.

Sexuality Education emphasises the importance of respect for self and others, both online and offline, and respecting personal boundaries for healthy relationships and safety. It aims to help students develop positive self-identities and healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions on sexuality matters.

Sexuality Education in schools promotes abstinence before marriage, and teaches facts about contraception, consequences of casual sex, prevention of diseases, and how to say “no” to sexual advances. This also helps to reduce the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases or teenage pregnancies.

Sexuality Education teaches students what homosexuality is and the importance of mutual understanding, respect and empathy for everyone.

The MOE Sexuality Education curriculum is organised around 5 themes:

  • Human development : the onset of puberty and its psychological and emotional impact.
  • Interpersonal relationships : the skills and values for healthy and rewarding relationships with friends and family, including the opposite sex.
  • Sexual health : information and attitudes to promote sexual health and avoid unwanted consequences of sexual behaviour.
  • Sexual behaviour : expressions of sexuality and their effects.
  • Culture, society and law : societal, cultural and legal influences on sexual identity and sexual expressions.

Sexuality Education is delivered through the following subjects and programmes:

Who it is for

Students in upper primary and secondary levels

What it covers

Upper primary levels.

The concept of reproduction and inheritance is introduced to students.

Secondary levels

The following are covered in the lower secondary Science syllabus and the upper secondary Biology syllabus:

  • Sexual reproduction in humans
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Medical advancements in human reproduction

Learn more about how Sexuality Education is covered in Science .

Students in primary and secondary schools, junior colleges and Millennia Institute

Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) supports the Sexuality Education content area by teaching students to manage interpersonal relationships.

CCE builds the foundation for respectful, responsible and caring relationships by promoting positive attitudes towards self and others.

At lower primary, the CCE (Form Teacher Guidance Period) teaches social and emotional learning. Through lessons on safety and safeguarding, students learn to protect themselves from sexual abuse, both online and offline. They also learn about their right to safety, and how to seek help if they are sexually threatened or abused.

From Primary 5 to Year 2 in junior colleges or Millennia Institute, Sexuality Education lessons cover the physical, emotional, social and ethical aspects of sexuality. Examples of topics include:

  • Building healthy and respectful relationships.
  • Dating, going steady, and marriage.
  • Issues in sexual health and behaviours.
  • Consequences of teenage sexual activity and pregnancy.
  • Influence of the online media on sexuality.
  • Safety and protection from sexual abuse and grooming.

Learn more about the CCE syllabus for  primary schools ,  secondary schools , and junior colleges and Millennia Institute . Learn more about the Sexuality Education lessons .

Secondary 3 students and Year 1 students in junior colleges or Millennia Institute.

Developed by the Health Promotion Board in collaboration with MOE, the programme covers:

  • Information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.
  • Abstinence, and how to avoid contracting STIs and HIV.
  • Skills on making responsible decisions, being assertive and how to say “no” to sexual advances and resist peer pressure.

Learn more about the eTeens programme .

Schools may engage external providers to supplement their sexuality education programmes. Such programmes must comply with MOE’s Framework for Sexuality Education.

MOE will carry out periodic audits on these external programmes to ensure that schools comply with its guidelines on engaging external providers.

As an external provider, you can apply to conduct Sexuality Education programmes in schools.

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Dealing with two paradoxes of Singapore's education system

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There is no contradiction between meritocracy and fairness, nor reducing inequality and raising Singapore’s collective standards, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (July 11), adding that this is why the Republic should continue its efforts to uplift those at the bottom. Speaking in Parliament during a debate on a motion on "Education for our future", he added that it is important for Singaporeans to have broad agreement around these fundamentals in developing an education system to better prepare children for the future. Below is an excerpt of his speech.

Mr Ong Ye Kung says there are so many opinions on education because it is close to Singaporeans' hearts and it affects the closest people in our lives – our children.

Ong Ye Kung

There is no contradiction between meritocracy and fairness, nor reducing inequality and raising Singapore’s collective standards, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (July 11), adding that this is why the Republic should continue its efforts to uplift those at the bottom.

Speaking in Parliament during a debate on a motion on "Education for our future", he added that it is important for Singaporeans to have broad agreement around these fundamentals in developing an education system to better prepare children for the future. Below is an excerpt of his speech. 

Last week, Mr David Brooks (New York Times columnitst) wrote a piece called ‘The paradox of the gender divide’.

He observed that in the Nordic countries, where gender equality is the highest, many women exercise their choice and opt out of the corporate rat race.

So, the greater the gender equality, the fewer the number of female corporate managers. And that’s a paradox.

In education, we encounter similar paradoxes too. There are at least two. The first paradox is that of meritocracy.

Meritocracy recognises talent and ability, over wealth and circumstances of birth. It motivates society to work hard, it encourages us to develop our talents, and put our talents and strengths to good use.

This approach has uplifted many families over the decades. Many members of the House have benefited from this approach and this philosophy.

And as families do well, they believe in meritocracy and therefore, they spare no effort investing in the next generation, including enrichment classes from a very young age.

Hence, children today from more affluent families are now doing better that those from lower income families in school.

Unlike the first generation of Singaporeans where students are mostly from humble backgrounds, the next generation is pushing off blocks from different starting points, with students from affluent families having a head start.

So, meritocracy, arising from a belief in fairness, seems to have paradoxically resulted in systemic unfairness. And that’s a question we all ask ourselves.

There’s a second paradox and that is of inequality. When I was young, most of my classmates, including myself, we were all from humble backgrounds.

So, just by the sheer law of probability, some of us ended up as top performers in schools. But that’s sheer law of probability.

Today, the percentage of students from similar backgrounds are much smaller, and it continues to shrink.

Ten years ago, about 20 per cent of our employed households had an income of S$3,000 or less, at $2017. Today, that has gone down to well below 15 per cent, and I think it will continue to shrink as we continue to uplift families.

So, this is a happy outcome. But as we successfully uplift more poor families, the smaller group of families that remain poor are facing increasingly difficult challenges.

Their challenges are also translated to their children’s performances in school.

So, as we uplift poor families, the greater the achievement gap between the rich and poor in school. And that’s the second paradox.

As we confront these paradoxes, we question if our policies and approaches have run their course, and perhaps it is time to slaughter some sacred cows and take a fundamentally different approach.

It depends on which cows you are thinking of slaughtering. For some, ‘maybe’, for some the answer is ‘no’.

Paradoxes make us think hard about our challenges and our choices. But we can resolve these apparent contradictions.

You take the gender divide debate in Nordic countries. They provided more equal opportunities to men and women, but women chose not to be like men, and so there is no contradiction in both greater equality and fewer female corporate managers.

NEVER LOSE FAITH IN MERITOCRACY 

How do we deal with the two paradoxes I mentioned – that of meritocracy and that of achievement gap? Let’s start with meritocracy, which is in danger recently of becoming a dirty word.

A couple of education-related controversies arose in the US recently. The first was a law suit was filed against University of Harvard for systemic bias against Asians over the years.

It was alleged that Asians who tend to score highest in the admission tests for Harvard, they were marked down by the University on soft criteria, such as personality.

So, it’s not just Singaporeans who are ‘kiasu’ and study a lot. Asians overseas, in the US, they too study very well and aced their exams. Apparently, Harvard did this to preserve ethnic diversity in the University.

The second controversy was the mayor of New York recently suggested to scrap the highly competitive admission examinations for eight of the city’s specialised public high schools.

Sixty two per cent of the students in these schools are Asians, who tend to perform well in these examinations. So, this move by the mayor of New York will reduce the number of Asians, and increase the number of black and Hispanic students being admitted into the high schools.

Some ideas that we have come across in recent weeks – not in this House – but what we read are along the lines of what the US schools are doing.

There was a suggestion that we set a quota for low income students in popular schools. I am not in a position to comment on the admission policies for US schools.

But Singapore’s circumstances are different and unique, and we cannot assume that we will have to eventually do what other countries like the US have done.

Many of our popular schools are already making extra efforts to attract eligible students from low income families, encouraging diversity amongst the students and mingling of students from different backgrounds.

And we should encourage them to do more and try even harder.

But setting a quota sends the wrong signal. I don’t think it is aligned to our societal ethos. And it can even be seen as patronising.

Another common suggestion that was raised is to scrap the PSLE, one of the sacred cows.

I will admit that PSLE is far from a perfect system and it does add stress, a lot of stress sometimes, to some parents and students, and the Minister too.

But it happens also to be the most meritocratic, and probably the most fair of all imperfect systems.

If we scrap it, whatever we replace it with to decide on secondary school postings, I think is likely to be worse.

I came across two alternate systems recently. The Swiss – I was in Switzerland last month – do not have the equivalent of PSLE.

But neither do students have a choice on what secondary school to go to or to work towards to go to – they are simply assigned to the school nearest to their homes.

I visited one of these schools and spoke to the students, and they all go home for lunch, because they say it’s 10 minutes’ walk, five minutes’ walk, different directions, and they come back to school.

They didn’t have a choice where to go to. However, in Switzerland, the affluent have a choice, because they can pay for their children to attend private schools.

And in Switzerland, 7 per cent of students attend private schools today.

(There is) another system in Hong Kong, which I visited earlier this year.

Some years ago, they did away with its equivalent of PSLE. But in its place, Hong Kong uses the school examination scores in Primary 5 and 6 to decide on secondary school postings.

Because the primary schools have different standards, they devised a tool to harmonise and normalise the scores. So the stress is somewhat transferred upstream.

And like the Swiss, there is also a thriving private school sector in Hong Kong, which accounts for nearly 30 per cent of the student intake.

The Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), a self-help group, has a Supervised Homework Group programme.

Here, young volunteers spend several hours a week tutoring and helping students from low income families with their homework.

On the surface, this is to help them with their homework, but the unspoken objective is for the volunteers to act as role models for the kids.

I thought the volunteers would be a very suitable group who should have their opinion heard, and so I asked if they think PSLE should be scrapped.

They have no vested interests, have gone through the education system themselves, and they are now helping poor students cope with schoolwork.

So, I thought, let’s hear their opinions. On the education system as a whole, they have many different views, but on PSLE, the great majority disagreed with scrapping it.

Why? The common reason they cited was that they felt that PSLE can in fact motivate these poorer students to work hard, and there are resources to support poorer students.

One expressed frankly that we can complain that PSLE favours the rich, but the rich are better poised to prepare their children in whatever alternate system that is in place.

They said support the weaker students more, but don’t take away PSLE.

So, I think it’s not a straightforward matter. This sacred cow survived for some very valid reasons.

But what I think we need to do, we must do, is to reduce the stakes of this examination.

Make it a less a do or die examination that is so important as if it will determine your whole life, which it doesn’t.

And there must be many other ways that we can do this, to reduce the stake of this examination.

One way I always talk about is to ensure a broader definition of merit.

One that does not focus too narrowly on past academic scores, but recognises a broad meritocracy of skills, given the various strengths and talents of our people. That, at the core, is the objective of SkillsFuture.

That is why pedagogy is changing in schools. It is more experiential, more applied and more exploratory.

There are many more pathways in the higher education sector, leading into lifelong learning.

We can’t change the fact that the starting points of each child is different, but our system can ensure that all of them can run a good race and finish well.

LIFTING THE BOTTOM

Now let’s talk about the second paradox, which is that of the achievement gap.

The easiest way to close the gap is to actually cap the top. Some of the suggestions raised in public, such as banning tuition and enrichment classes, redistributing resources from popular to less popular schools, are pointing in that direction.

Excessive tuition to the point of causing undue stress and killing the joy of learning is not good for the child.

But I don’t think capping achievements and limiting opportunities is the right approach either. It runs against a very fundamental philosophy of our education system.

As the educators in MOE will say in Chinese – 保底不封顶 – don’t cap the top, uplift the bottom.

Indeed, a good proportion – about 7.5 per cent – of students who live in one to three-room HDB flats emerge as top PSLE performers every year.

And there are many others with great non-academic strengths and talents and we must continue to strive to help them develop their strengths to the fullest.

MOE’s resourcing of schools reflect this approach.

The highest level of funding, about S$24,000 per student goes to the Specialised Schools – Crest Secondary School, Spectra Secondary School, NorthLight School and Assumption Pathway School.

The next highest levels of resourcing, about S$20,000 and S$15,000 per student, goes to Normal (Technical) and Normal (Academic) streams respectively.

A student in other courses in Government and Government Aided schools, and in Independent Schools, attracts under S$15,000 of resources per student.

In addition, MOE regularly rotates and ensures that our good performing teachers and principals are well spread across different types of schools.

Beyond resourcing of schools, further assistance is granted to students from lower income households.  They come in the form of financial assistance schemes, bursaries, school meal programmes, and the Opportunity Fund.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) also reaches out to students from different schools, in a quest for diversity amongst Government scholars.

It has been paying special attention to applicants from lower income families.

Students from two JCs – RI and Hwa Chong – used to dominate the scholarships awards. But the situation is improving.

In 2007, over 80 per cent of PSC scholars were from these two JCs. In 2017, the percentage has come down to 60 per cent.

The PSC is also adjusting its interview techniques.

They recognise that students from poorer backgrounds tend to be less articulate, so the Commission is assessing candidates beyond their communication skills, but instead looking at the substance of what they say, their ideas and thinking.

As a result, we continue to see President’s Scholars who come from humble backgrounds or outside of the most popular JCs.

In 2016, LTA Natasha Ann Lum Mei Seem became the first President’s and SAF Scholar from Pioneer JC. She is now studying in the US and she is an AirForce C3 Officer.

At last year’s President’s Scholar award ceremony, I sat next to Mr Lee Tat Wei and his parents. His father is a taxi driver and his mother is a part-time sales assistant. Tat Wei is also studying in the US and will be joining the Foreign Service.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE FOR ALL

Our approach of lifting the bottom has other significant outcomes.

First, what we used to regard as opportunities only available to students from more affluent backgrounds are now broadly accessible.

For example, most schools now organise overseas learning experiences.

Schools are offering a wide variety of CCAs – Tanglin Secondary School has fencing as a CCA, Kent Ridge Secondary School offers sailing, North Vista Secondary offers string ensemble and NorthLight School has for many years run an equestrian programme.

The Junior Sports Academy (JSA) is another example. It is a two-year free sports development programme for talented and interested P4 and P5 students.

The Academy does not scout for high performing sportsmen and sportswomen.

They look for raw diamonds – students with good motor skills and hand-eye coordination abilities, and then help them develop their sporting skills through professional coaching.

Since 2017, we have doubled the capacity of the Programme to about 800 a year.

Some students from the Programme have gone on to gain places in secondary schools through the Direct School Admission system and they did not have to go to those expensive coaches with high rates.

It’s done by the JSA, free of charge. MOE is now in the initial stages of developing a similar programme for the Arts.

It is a good example of the alternate system we discussed and what will happen if we don’t have the PSLE.

You have an alternate system, DSA is an alternate system.

Mr (Ganesh) Rajaram has accurately pointed out that the affluent, they always have a way, whatever system it is, to make better use of it.

But in this case, that system also serves those from humble backgrounds and we are able to train them to enter the top and popular schools.

So, we ask ourselves, are we better off with or without this alternate system.

And I think we may well be better off having this system that enables students from humble backgrounds to enter popular schools, notwithstanding that affluent students will also be able to make use of it.

WHEN CLASS SIZE MATTERS

The second significant outcome is smaller class sizes for the weaker students.

The additional resources for Specialised Schools and students in Normal Streams come partly in the form of additional teaching resources.

In Crest Secondary School, Spectra Secondary School, NorthLight School and Assumption Pathway School, the typical class size is 20.

In lower primary, Learning Support Programmes are done in groups of 8 to 10.

Many Normal (Technical) classes are now taught in sizes of 20 or in a class size of 40, but with two teachers.

In many Junior Colleges, consultations between students and teachers are often one-to-one.

For sessions with an education and career guidance counsellor, students meet one-on-one or in small groups.

There is sometimes still the perception that students study in one class and it is of a certain size.

The reality, and the living experience of students, is that they now regularly move around and join different groups and there is no single class size.

Let me put MOE’s position on this straight: with good teachers, smaller class sizes help the students. Our teachers can attest to that through first-hand experience.

In fact, there was a suggestion by Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin to do a study. Actually, we are convinced. With good teachers, smaller class sizes help the students. It’s quite clear.

Why then is MOE cautious on the issue of class size? Because how it is implemented makes all the difference. Let me cite you the results of a few studies to illustrate this.

They are done in overseas context, but nevertheless these are scientific studies and we should take note of the results.

In 2009, Hong Kong did a Study on Small Class Teaching in Primary School.

It put about 700 classes through an experiment over three years, varying their class sizes along the way.

The study found that however they vary the class sizes, there were no significant differences on performances compared to the territory-wide averages.

What Hong Kong did find was that where an experimental school or class did significantly better, it was because the principal was more experienced, took an active role in developing the curriculum, developing the teachers, and involved parents in the education.

Those were the key drivers of better performances.

Another study was done by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel and results was published in their 2016 Annual Report.

Unlike the Hong Kong study, the Taub Center did not conduct an experiment.

They gathered a large volume of data on students’ results, and did a multivariate analysis on the key determinants of the results, with a specific focus to find out if class size made a difference.

The conclusion was in the first page of the report on the study, which said “No significant relationship was found between class size and achievement.”

However, the study did find that for learning of Hebrew, the larger the class size, the better the results!

The third study was done in 2011 by the Center for American Progress, and the results were particularly insightful and shed light on the results of the two studies I just cited.

The US study observed that smaller class sizes was a popular idea, but after tens of billions of dollars were spent across states, particularly in California and Florida, it did not affect results in a statistically significant way.

One reason was that in the US’ context, smaller class sizes meant hiring of many new teachers, who were inexperienced and yet to be effective in the classroom.

The report said “The evidence on class size indicates that smaller classes can, in some circumstances, improve student achievement if implemented in a focused way. But class size reduction policies generally take exactly the opposite approach by pursuing across the board reduction… (They are) also extremely expensive and represented wasted opportunities to make smarter educational investments.”

When I was in Finland earlier this year, I visited a secondary school, and Finland has a very good education system.

I asked the teachers for their opinion on class sizes.

They told me that different political parties in Finland and each one has a position on the issue of class size and they all have different class sizes.

And whoever is elected would then legislate that class size and put it into law.

The teachers said ‘We would rather not have that rigidity. Grant the school the teaching resources, and give them the flexibility to configure class sizes for different groups of students, for different subjects.’

This is what Singapore has been doing.

Let me summarise. Earlier generations of Singaporeans have worked very hard to uplift their lives, and education played a major role.

But success creates new problems. The doubts of many Singaporeans – whether meritocracy still works, whether inequality is worsening – are paradoxically the results of our policies succeeding and improving the lives of Singapore families.

That is why I said tackling inequality is unfinished business.

But I stress there is no contradiction between meritocracy and fairness, nor reducing inequality and raising our collective standards.

Instead, we should double up on meritocracy, by broadening its definition to embrace various talents and skills.

We should not cap achievement at the top, but try harder, work harder to lift the bottom.

I wanted to set out these fundamentals, because it is important to have broad agreement around them.

If we have, we are in a much better position to develop the education system to better prepare our children for the future.

As to what exactly we need to do in terms of programmes, initiatives and policy reviews, MOE will take in all the views and suggestions raised inside and outside of this House and consider them. Some we will implement, some we will take time to implement.

Others involve trade-offs and we may decide not to implement them for the time being.

The Speaker asked two questions – he asked what is the most important school you attend and who are the most important teachers.

And my answer is this: The most important school is family, the most important teacher are our parents.

Of course, it takes a village to raise a child, but the home, the parents, is one of the most important education experience all of us will have.

So, imagine if a family is a school, and parents are the teachers, it makes the job of MOE complicated.

Because between the parents and the child is a complex relationship.

As parents, we know that.

There are expectations, love, respect, hopes, fears, worries.

It’s a complex relationship and MOE is in the middle of it.

But it also means that being an educator is a great privilege, because you get to educate a child, which is the most cherished, valuable to the parents.

Mr Darryl David mentioned that being a teacher is unlike all other professions, unlike a lawyer or a pilot, where nobody questions you how you do your job.

But when it comes to teachers, parents will question, because parents too are the most important teachers to the child.

And it’s a complex relationship between a mother and child, father and child.

There are so many opinions on education because it is so close to our hearts because it affects the closest people in our lives – our children.

It also means discussions on education can be frustrating and sometimes end up in a stalemate.

Parents will say ‘MOE, you better change; MOE says ‘Parents need to change’. 

Sometimes, we point fingers at each other.

The children don’t say it, but they look at you and probably think – “you both better change.”

The truth is, we are all in this together, as partners to build a better future. I feel optimistic and hopeful, because through all the speeches made today, we may appear like we have different views, but I think underlying all that, there’s consensus on the direction ahead.

I don’t think we ever had such a strong chorus of voices in the House, emphasising on the importance of joy of learning and cautioning against excessive tuition and relentless chasing of academic results.

I believe this is a view that will reverberate beyond this Chamber.

MOE and all our partners, we will work together.

It’s not an easy job, but MOE with the resources, with the policy levers, we will be the initiator of the changes.

We can be the system integrator. Work together, bring about improvements and change.

All of us cannot fail the young people of Singapore, and we cannot fail our society.

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gender equality in education singapore

Today, over 70% of women in Singapore agree that gender discrimination exists in the workplace. However, men face challenges too. Locally, male pre-school teachers make up only 1% of the total pool of early childhood educators .

How much do you know about gender equality? Test your knowledge in the video below.

Can you do better? Try the Gender Equality Quiz now!

So, can gender equality be achieved in Singapore?

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Gender discrimination affects both men and women

In Singapore, women earned 4.3 percent less than men in 2020. Women also face various types of physical, sexual, and online harm. A 2021 survey showed that 2 in 5 workers encountered some form of workplace sexual harassment in the preceding five years. Such harassment has extended to the online space as well, with 163 new cases of technology-facilitated sexual violence against women reported in 2021.

Women in the modern economy cope with a “triple shift”: apart from work, there is raising kids and caring for elderly parents. A Mckinsey study found that the ‘double shift’ of housework and childcare on top of work is increasing for women and mothers are three times as likely as fathers to do most of the housework and caregiving. Locally, we have higher labour-force participation rates from women and Singapore’s full-time female employment rate has been rising steadily over the past 10 years, but women still bear the bulk of the caregiving burden , at the expense of their careers, income and savings.

In female-dominated fields like nursing, male nurses face stigma , while female nurses still struggle with a gender pay gap even though they make up the majority of staff.

Stay-at-home fathers in Singapore face stigma. Family policies in Singapore continue to signal that childcare is a woman’s responsibility and reinforce gender stereotypes.

Let’s hear our guest speakers weigh in on this issue:

Poll: Your views matter!

If you are unable to view the embedded form below, please click here .

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What does gender equality look like to you? Join the discussion in Evangeline’s Instagram and Facebook now!

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Here are some experiences shared by others:

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Recommended Resources

Explore the resources below to find out more about gender equality.

CNA. (2022, March). Gender Equality Starts at Home: Masagos Zulkifli. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

CNA Insider. (2022, March). Women in Asia Defy Norms In Gender Equality Strive. CNA Correspondent. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

TEDx Talks. (2022, June 28). Risks of the Gender Equality Business Case . Pascal Kornfuehrer . TEDxIntlSchoolDüsseldorfWomen . Retrieved 2022, July 27.

Harvard Business Review. (2019, September 24). When Will We Reach Gender Equality? Retrieved 2022, July 27.

TEDx Talks. (2019, September 13). Why Gender Equality is Not Just About Women . Caroline Strachan . TEDxFolkestone. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

Global Gender Gap Narrowing, But Still 132 Years to Reach Parity Global Gender Gap Narrowing, But Still 132 Years to Reach Parity. (2022, July). International Women’s Day. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

Ten Things to Know About Gender Equality Krishnan, Mekala, et al. (2020, September 21). Ten Things to Know About Gender Equality. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

Commentary: What’s Behind Varying Attitudes About Gender Equality in Singapore Mathews, Matthew. (2021, October 3). Commentary: What’s Behind Varying Attitudes About Gender Equality in Singapore. Institute of Policy Studies. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

Sexual Violence in Singapore: A Crisis Sexual Violence in Singapore: A Crisis. (2021, September 8). Kontinentalist. Retrieved 2022, August 10.

Reviewing Essential Feminist Book Titles with Amanda Chong Something Private. (2022, February 17). Reviewing Essential Feminist Book Titles with Amanda Chong. Retrieved 2022, August 10.

Episode 18: Dismantling Patriarchy – Close Encounters and Imperfect Strategies Batliwala, Srilatha, et al. (2021, August 11). Episode 18: Dismantling Patriarchy – Close Encounters and Imperfect Strategies. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

Breaking Bias to Build a More Gender-Equal World Lagarde, Christine, & Shafik, Minouche. (2022, March 5). Breaking Bias to Build a More Gender-Equal World. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

How COVID Deepened Gender Inequality Radio Davos. (2021, March 31). How COVID Deepened Gender Inequality. Retrieved 2022, July 27.

YWLChats Young Women’s Leadership Connection. (2022). YWLChats playlist. Retrieved 2022, August 22.

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Commentary commentary

Commentary: Can education fix inequality in Singapore? If not, what can?

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commentary Commentary

As a mature, high-income and slow-growing economy, Singapore cannot expect rapid growth to mask the economic effects and social challenges of rising inequality, says Linda Lim and Pang Eng Fong.

A family walking in Singapore. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

gender equality in education singapore

SINGAPORE: Combating inequality has been declared a “national priority” in Singapore. 

This makes sense, given the pernicious effects that persistently high inequality can have on economic growth, political stability, social cohesion, quality of life, and even national security.

The 2016 Brexit and Trump votes occurred in the two major developed countries with the greatest income inequality — the UK and US respectively. Studies suggest that socio-cultural as well as economic divides resulting from inequality contributed to these electoral results, which have since led to populist and protectionist policy proposals that will slow growth in the long run.

Inequality itself also directly lowers economic growth through under-realisation of scarce talent, and weaker consumption demand — both are of particular concern to Singapore given our small labour force and market size. 

As an already mature, high-income and thus slow-growing economy, we can also no longer expect rapid growth to mask the economic effects and social challenges of rising inequality, as it did in previous decades.

Instead we need to boldly confront the root causes of inequality, which lie in how our economic and social institutions actually work. Focusing on education policy as the main solution can actually worsen inequality.

HOW DOES EDUCATION CONTRIBUTE TO INEQUALITY?

In developed economies like the UK, US and Singapore, income inequality increases with average incomes because growth increasingly derives from the application of capital and skills, rather than labour, to production, as comparative advantage and technology shift in a capital- and skills-biased direction.

This raises the returns to capital (profits and rents) and skills (PMET salaries) more than it does the returns to labour (wages). Education, especially university education, contributes to the widening skills premium (excess of skilled over unskilled labour income), and parents and students naturally clamour for more of it.

This is where education and inequality are mutually reinforcing. Higher-income families invest more in private tuition for academic subjects, extracurricular enrichment activities, and parental attention. 

This enhances their children’s school performance and chances of getting into “good” (elite, brand-name) schools and universities, thus achieving credentials that employers value and reward with “good jobs” and high salaries. 

Employers are known to use educational certification and school reputation as “screening devices” that differentiate between job candidates, and as proxies for behavioral characteristics and social networks they believe enhance employees’ contribution to the enterprise.

Expansion of higher education has been accompanied by a widening “college premium” — or gap between graduate and non-graduate incomes — even as the supply of graduates increases.

Recent studies in the US and UK suggest that this is due to losses to non-graduates, as well as gains to graduates, as employers start requiring degrees for work that did not need it 30 years ago.

And as university degrees become more common, institutional reputation becomes more important, intensifying competition for places at the most selective institutions, and widening their graduates’ salary premium over graduates of less selective institutions.

gender equality in education singapore

READ:  The relentless pursuit of university rankings is leading to a two-track system, a commentary .

READ:  Is academic competition really necessary to be the best we can be? A commentary .

CAN EDUCATION REFORMS REDUCE INEQUALITY?

Policy-makers in developed countries have focused on reforms in education to reduce inequality. In some countries, particularly the US, unequal resource allocation between “rich” and “poor” school districts is a major factor contributing to unequal educational, employment and income outcomes. 

This is less of a problem in Singapore, given the Ministry of Education’s worthy efforts to equalise the allocation of resources — including the “best” teachers and administrators — between “neighbourhood” and “elite” schools.  But it is hard to improve already high-performing, well-resourced schools.

More importantly, as we noted in the New Nation in 1976: ”The effect of any school variable which can be manipulated by decision-makers is small relative to other determinants of student performance … Family background is a very important variable affecting educational performance and earnings of individuals ... changes within the school system itself will not necessarily bring about more equal performance of students in school or greater income equality among them when they are employed.”

Recent, separate research by NTU associate professor of sociology Teo You Yenn, and NUS associate professor of social work Irene Ng, confirms the dominant impact of family circumstances on student performance in Singapore today.

The PISA test which we regularly top shows that 15-year-old students in Singapore on average perform better than those in OECD countries, but here the gap between the top and bottom scorers is wider and the dependence on parents' socio-economic status higher.

Another popular policy is to increase lower-income students’ access to more selective schools, including through priority admissions, as Singapore plans to do in Primary One and post-PSLE student assignments to elite schools.

But at best this can cater to only a small subset of low-income students, probably those already best qualified. This could widen the student performance gap between elite and neighbourhood schools, and subject more families to “exam stress”. 

gender equality in education singapore

Since school performance is heavily dependent on family resources, lower-income children could underperform relative to higher-income classmates in elite schools, reinforcing stigmatisation from priority admission, and lowering self-esteem which research shows is a major determinant of individual performance.

Priority admission for lower-income children would also intensify competition among higher-income students for “fewer” elite school places, thus worsening the “education arms race”. 

In the US, such competition has worsened inequality and increased social stratification by increasing home values (hence family wealth) in residential neighbourhoods in the top public school districts.  

Tweaking Singapore’s education system will not reduce inequality because it does not change the underlying unequal socio-economic structure to whose incentives families of all income levels rationally respond.

Parents naturally seek for their children entry into secure, well-paid employment in large corporate and government bureaucracies, and cartelised high-earning professions, which still use traditional academic credentials to screen candidates and remunerate employees.  

gender equality in education singapore

READ:  Is there an education arms race? A commentary .

READ: Are we missing the point of education? A commentary .

OUR ECONOMIC MODEL GENERATES HIGH INEQUALITY

Despite Singapore’s rapid growth in economic output and average incomes, income inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient has increased since the late 1970s, and is high relative to other developed countries, before taxes and transfers.

The Gini also counts only income from work, which in Singapore is under half of national income, a very low ratio by international standards. It does not consider wealth or property, which everywhere is more unequally distributed than income, especially in expensive dense cities.

High inequality reflects several features of our economic development over the decades. 

Most significantly, increased output has come mainly from factor accumulation, the employment of more capital and labour, rather than from productivity growth, which has been relatively low, and is necessary for labour incomes to rise.  The long and heavy reliance by business on cheap foreign labour, facilitated by government policy, has depressed wages of the low-skilled.

The rapid increase in population necessary to propel this input-intensive growth model has also raised returns to owners of the scarcest factor in Singapore, land, thereby increasing the inequality that derives from residential home values and monopoly rents.

Compared to other high-income countries, Singapore also has a relatively weak social safety net, lacking public provision for unemployment insurance and guaranteed social security (retirement income) that is almost universally provided elsewhere.

gender equality in education singapore

THE IMPACT OF MERITOCRACY 

The Singaporean ideology that we are a “meritocracy” where economic success based on hard work and the right academic credentials justifies unequal returns, poses two problems. 

First, it entrenches hierarchy, and hence a systemic inequality to which social mobility can at best contribute slightly more diverse members at each level of the pyramid. Overall inequality does not decline, and at worst, those who fail to “make it” up the ladder are considered to “deserve” their inferior position on the social as well as income scale.

Beginning with the competitive “streaming” of students by exam results at an early age, such stratification has stigmatising and demotivating effects which limit educational attainment and reduce intergenerational mobility.  

Second, in the post-industrial society to which Singapore is inevitably transitioning, a laddered meritocracy and the social divide it subtends impede further economic progress.

Innovation, and response to the disruption it causes, increasingly hinge on entrepreneurship rather than bureaucracy, risk-taking rather than risk-avoidance, diversity rather than similarity, collaboration rather than competition, imagination rather than instruction, contestation rather than conformity, and bottom-up rather than top-down initiative.

In short, meritocracy as currently construed in Singapore, and served by the educational system, is arguably the problem, not the solution, for both economic development and inequality, as it is in other highly unequal rich societies.  

gender equality in education singapore

A UK study shows that students from higher-income families are more likely to go to university, and to more selective universities. They also earn more than students from lower-income families who graduate from the same institutions in the same subjects, and with similar other characteristics. 

In the US, Yale Law School professor Daniel Markovits has said

American meritocracy has become ... a mechanism for the dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations. Meritocracy now constitutes a modern-day aristocracy.

REDUCING INEQUALITY THROUGH REDISTRIBUTION NEED NOT HARM GROWTH

We need to look outside the education system for policies that do work to reduce income and wealth disparities. They include higher tax rates on high income earners, levies on capital gains, estates and inheritance, and a stronger social safety net — all of which Singapore has eschewed, believing these would reduce the incentive to work hard, save and invest, and thus harm economic growth. 

But high-income Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and Germany, have reduced inequality over decades through progressive universal tax-and-transfer systems that included labour market policies, spending on healthcare and social protection while growing at respectable rates and ranking high on productivity and innovation indices — some even while maintaining budget surpluses and strong currencies.  

Some high earners may resent high tax rates, but all citizens benefit from subsidised public services, including health and education, and receive unemployment insurance and retirement pensions. 

Besides reducing economic and social divides, these policies may also encourage savings for growth-enhancing investments in business enterprises (rather than housing consumption, as in Singapore).

Recent improvement in Singapore’s still-high Gini coefficient also results not from educational policy, but from increased social transfers to vulnerable groups — subsidies for low-wage workers, the elderly and elderly poor.

But these have been insufficient to narrow the cumulative wide income and wealth gaps created by past policies and market forces. Our post-tax-and-transfers Gini still ranks with the highest among developed countries (lower than the US but similar to the UK), is much higher than those of other small high-income economies (in Scandinavia), and is unlikely to be fiscally sustainable.

However, we have run large budget and current account surpluses for decades, piling up huge foreign exchange reserves that have been well-invested by our sovereign wealth funds. More of these could be converted into social spending that could both increase productivity and reduce inequality.

Reforming the education system — by equalising resources, eliminating streaming, increasing curricular flexibility and minimising social segregation — can reduce inequality and social stratification, and foster the innovation and entrepreneurship required for post-industrial economic growth, only if the deep-seated institutional roots of inequality are addressed. 

The political will to do this is what matters in the struggle for a more just and equal society that will benefit all of us.

Linda Lim is Professor Emerita of Corporate Strategy and International Business, Stephen M Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. Pang Eng Fong is Professor of Strategic Management (Practice) at Singapore Management University.

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  • gender equality in singapore 2018

Gender Equality in Singapore 2018

This article was originally published on 6th July 2018

By Dr Zsuzsanna Tungli, Developing Global Leaders Asia

Do we want to go back to a Singapore where daughters stayed at home and sons went to school? Where men could legally take several wives? Where married women could not own and control personal property? Let me hear a resounding no!

Singapore has made huge leaps when it comes to gender equality, predominantly thanks to the Women's Charter. The Women's Charter was passed in 1961 to advocate girls and women's rights in Singapore, and promote equality in marriage. An event described as momentous in Singapore’s history because it significantly protected and advanced women's rights.

Should we be happy with the status quo?

Singapore has achieved more progress towards gender parity than Asia Pacific as a whole, but lags behind other advanced economies. New research from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) calculates a country’s Gender Parity Score (GPS) using 15 indicators of gender equality at work and in society. Singapore has a GPS of 0.68 on gender equality in work, well above Asia Pacific overall (0.44) but somewhat behind the best in region (0.73). In 3 of the 15 indicators, Singapore has high or extremely high gender inequality: leadership positions, legal protection and political representation. Hardly surprising when you look at the facts. 52% of Singapore’s companies have less than 20% of women in leadership roles. The World Bank Women Business and Law database noted that Singapore currently does not have laws mandating non-discrimination based on gender in hiring, or laws stipulating equal pay for work of equal value. Singaporean women account for only 24% of members of parliament and 9% of ministerial or cabinet roles.

The sad fact is that despite 76% of Singaporean women of prime working age (25-54 years) in paid employment, subconscious bias and gender gaps in terms of senior management representation still exist. Only 13% of board seats of the top 100 listed companies in Singapore are held by women. Directors promoted to Singapore boards over the past 3 years were predominantly men; more than 80% for all SGX listed companies. Looking further afield, after reaching an all-time high in 2017 with 32 women CEOs on the Fortune 500, so far in 2018, we have already seen a decline of 25%, leaving female CEOs on the Fortune 500 at a mere 5%. And it’s not just our boards that have a diversity shortage. Lean In and MGI research shows that the percentage of roles held by women steadily decreases at every seniority level. Men and women enter the workforce at relatively the same levels. But between entry level and the C suite, the percentage of female employees more than halves, while male representation jumps by 27%. This trend is consistent across every industry; even those that are female dominated in the early stages of the career path see a steady drop off of female representation towards the C suite. Today, worldwide, women are paid an average of 23% less than men. Taking Singapore specifically, men are still earning 18% more than women, and this gap hasn’t changed much in the last decade. At current rates of progress the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 reveals that it will take 217 years globally to close the gender gaps around economic opportunity, participation and pay.

Why is this? Why do we still see that glass ceiling when 73% of global firms allegedly have equal opportunity policies in place? And when so much research points to the competitive advantages of gender diverse companies? MGI research actually proved that gender diverse companies in the top quartile financially outperform those in the bottom quartile by 15%. MGI also estimates that S$20 billion could be added to Singapore’s annual GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. So what are we missing? Why is progress towards gender equality so slow? One of the most powerful reasons for this is a simple one; we have blind spots when it comes to diversity.

How can we solve problems that we don’t see or understand? Nearly 50% of men think women are well represented in leadership roles when 1 in 10 leaders is a woman. 30% of women feel the same way. Another reason? The simple fact that organisational policies and practices have not caught up to the enormous changes that have transformed Singapore society since 1961. A simple illustration; only 47% of firms in Singapore offer flexible work arrangements. More change is yet to come as Singapore’s population ages, adding elderly care to the list of barriers keeping Singaporean women from participating fully in the workforce.

“Those days when the average family was a dad who went to work every day and a mom who stayed at home and did all the unpaid labour – that’s not what our economy looks like anymore. Household and work arrangements come in all shapes and all combinations, and yet, our workplace policies still look like they’re straight out of Mad Men”. – Barrack Obama

To speed up progress and see gender equality in our lifetimes, we need you. If we really want organisational policies and practices that work for everybody, that account for the realities of how people live today, we need more women in decision-making structures; in politics, in education, in the C-Suite. We don’t have to wait for laws to change - we can make progress without them. We need ordinary women helping to remove barriers that prevent women from participating fully in their societies or workplaces.

We need everyday role models that create more opportunities and show the rest of us how to do it. After all, how can we strive to be what we can’t see? We can all be that everyday hero. We can all do something to get us closer to our greatest ideal. Let’s start with our own subconscious bias. We are still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave. We all have the power to change this – for ourselves and for our children.

• Change the attitude that criticises our daughters for being bossy and our sons for being sensitive. • Change the attitude that stigmatises full-time fathers and penalises working mothers. • Change the attitude that sees gender equality as a women only issue. Invite men to the discussion. • Change the attitude that sees advances in female leadership as a threat to men. • Change the attitude that assumes women are less competent or committed to their careers because they have children. • Change the attitude that undervalues women, giving them less credit than men for successful outcomes and more blame for failure. • Change the attitude that stops women from applying for roles until they meet 100% of the hiring criteria. (Research shows that men typically apply when they meet 60%). • Change the attitude that believes leadership competencies require typically ‘male’ characteristics.

So come on Singapore! Why wait 217 years?

Article References:

  • Singapore Women's Charter:  http://www.scwo.org.sg/resources/womens-charter/
  • MGI The Power of Parity - Advancing Women’s Equality in Asia Pacific:  https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/featured%20insights/Asia%20Pacific/The%20power%20of%20parity%20Advancing%20womens%20equality%20in%20Singapore/The-power-of-parity-Advancing-womens-equality-in-Singapore.ashx 
  • The World Bank Women Business & Law Database:  http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/102741522965756861/WBL-Key-Findings-Web-FINAL.pdf
  • Singapore labour force statistics:  http://stats.mom.gov.sg/iMAS_PdfLibrary/mrsd_2017LabourForce_survey_findings.pdf
  • Diversity Action Singapore:  http://www.diversityaction.sg
  • Fortune 500 CEOs:  http://fortune.com/2018/05/21/women-fortune-500-2018/
  • LeanIn & MGI Women in the Workplace study:  https://womenintheworkplace.com/
  • World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017:  https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-gendergap-report-2017
  • Value Penguin Singapore Wage Gap:  https://www.valuepenguin.sg/2017/08/how-bad-gender-wage-gapsingapore
  • International Labour Relations global report – Gaining Momentum:  http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_316450.pdf
  • MGI Why Diversity Matters article:  https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/whydiversity-matters
  • Harvard Business Review article:  https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified  

ABOUT DEVELOPING GLOBAL LEADERS

This article was written by Developing Global Leaders Asia (DGL). We believe responsible leadership combined with the ability to lead across borders and cultures has the power to transform individuals, organisations and societies - when it’s done right. DGL has decades of research and practical experience, with clients around the globe, and a proven track record of measurable long-lasting results. DGL consulting and training services focus on developing globally competent and socially responsible leaders, cohesive multicultural teams, and sustainable corporate culture that respects the organisation’s social and environmental impact. For more information visit  www.culturaltrainingasia.com .

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Global Gender Gap score in educational attainment Singapore 2014-2023

Singapore's global gender gap score for educational attainment from 2014 to 2023.

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The Global Gender Gap Index measures the gap between men and women across four fundamental categories (subindexes): Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. The index value ranges between 1 (parity) and 0 (imparity). Data prior to 2020 found in previous reports. Figures have been rounded.

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UNESCO is stepping up the evidence base for gender equality

Engaging men for gender equality

To address the backtracking on gender equality in many places, we need evidence and political will to stay the course. UNESCO is making its contribution with our Gender Based Resilience Framework.

UNESCO launched the first-time measurement framework of gender-based resilience to assess the status quo and inform policy making at the 3 rd Global Forum against Racism and Discrimination in São Paulo, Brazil, in December 2023. The first report, “ Empowering women for the good of society ”, showed how gender gaps in wages, representation in decision-making, education, science, business, and safety not only hinder women’s empowerment, but negatively impact our collective social and economic resilience.

The numbers speak for themselves. A third of both women and men see women earning more than their husbands as a problem. In countries where women spend up to two hours more than men on unpaid care and domestic work per day, their employment rate is around 50%, but it reduces to 30-40% in countries where they spend four or more hours more than men.

To explore opportunities for change, UNESCO delivered “ The Weight of Words ”, an AI-powered analysis that sheds light on the impact of gender-coded language in job postings on women’s participation and upward mobility in the workforce. It shows how addressing gendered language rooted in sexist stereotypes in the labour market could be a great cost-effective fix to bring positive payoffs to both societies and economies.

In today’s modern world, the weight of patriarchies in all their forms continues to burden the minds and bodies of individuals — men, women, and people of diverse gender identities.” - , Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO

Empowering women and girls requires meaningful engagement from men and boys to combat gender stereotypes, social and cultural norms, and harmful role models that push men to embrace aggression, dominance, emotional suppression, and entitlement to women’s bodies. 

Three out of five men globally are pressured into the role of “breadwinners”, while societies continue to discriminate against women and girls, forcing them on less fulfilling — if not entirely unfulfilling — paths. “ Engaging men for gender equality in the Global South: Perspectives from the UNESCO Maputo Dialogue ” ,   written by Robert Morrell, pioneer of Critical Masculinities Studies in South Africa, with insights from stakeholders from Botswana, Costa Rica, Cuba, France, Grenada, Iceland, Jamaica, Mexico, Mozambique, South Africa, Sweden, and Zimbabwe, presents advice to design effective solutions at the grassroots level.

What’s next?

“The Gender Equality Quest in Video Games ” — another UNESCO publication to look out for in 2024. Video games are worlds of gender inequalities and stereotypes. Women represent almost half of all gamers, but only 5% of game protagonists are women. Women comprise just 16% of executive positions in the top 14 gaming companies. The pervasiveness of violence in video games, which reaches the daily lives of 3.38 billion gamers, can seem to perpetuate flawed notions of masculinity and nurture harmful behaviours. At the same time, gamers and developers around the world are leading positive change. Together with Eight Goals One Foundation, UNESCO will explore the potential of the video game industry and community to transform mentalities for the better, including combating online harassment and abuse.

This diversity of research is part of  UNESCO’s Transforming MEN’talities Programme ,  established at the 219 th Session of UNESCO’s Executive Board in March 2024. Led by UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector, the programme aims to change mindsets and policies by unravelling the root causes and consequences of gender-based discrimination and sharing best practices on successfully engaging all members of society — but particularly men and boys — for gender equality.

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OU to close Gender + Equality Center, rename multicultural programs, services

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Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students David Surratt told student leaders Wednesday afternoon that OU’s Gender + Equality Center will close and the Division of Student Affairs will see several changes following the spring semester as a result of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s December executive order calling for a review of diversity, equity and inclusion programming and services in higher education.

During a meeting with the Vice President’s Advisory Council, which is a group of student leaders that meets with the aim of connecting students and university officials, Surratt said there are two big changes coming to the division, one of them being the closing of the GEC.

“The GEC as it stands will close,” Surratt said.

The GEC was formerly known as the Women’s Outreach Center and was opened in 1999 to serve female students. The center later took on services such as OU Advocates, which is a group of staff trained to respond and support students experiencing sexual assault or violence. The GEC’s current mission is to support students on campus through education, interpersonal violence prevention, advocacy for victims of gender-based violence and support and programming focused on 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion.

Surratt said with the closure of the GEC, the division will launch an Office of Advocacy and Education. This office will house services focused on sexual assault and sexual violence prevention and response, health-related education programs and outreach and will oversee the OU Food Pantry. OU Advocates will be included in the services provided in this new office.

During a question and answer session at the meeting, Surratt said the use of the word "advocacy" in the office's title could be triggering or suggest some sort of behavior or services within the office that do not follow the executive order. However, he said when he and his team thought about it more, the word advocacy is essential to the work that office and staff does to support students who have experienced sexual violence.

“Yes, I'm worried. …,” Surratt said about using the word advocacy in the office’s name. “We literally have a program called OU Advocates that is responsive to folks who are survivors or victims of sexual violence and it's important for those folks who call in and need support and resources and help.

“So for me, I was willing to go ahead and say, ‘If you're really against advocacy, you're literally attacking gender-based violence programs that have been in existence for a while and supporting our entire campus community.’”

Kesha Keith, director of strategic initiatives in the Division of Student Affairs, wrote in an email to OU Daily on Thursday to further add context to the naming of the office. Keith wrote that advocacy should not be misconstrued as combative but rather a crucial element of student support.

"Advocacy is integral to our support system at the university, especially for students impacted by sexual violence," Keith wrote. "It's about providing essential help and resources to those in need. Removing 'advocacy' would undermine the support for gender-based violence programs that have been supporting our campus community effectively for years."

Surratt said during the question and answer section of the VPAC meeting that advocacy to him is about student support and assisting students, and he’s been educating others about how advocacy does not mean combating the university.

The services within the GEC focused on 2SLGBTQ+ programming, such as the program coordinator, will move under Student Life.

Along with changes to the GEC and the opening of a new office, the division will also be renaming the Office of Student Life’s Multicultural Programs and Services to Community Engagement.

Coordinators in this office who previously held titles or roles overseeing specific identity groups’ programs and services will be renamed to community engagement coordinators. All multicultural student organizations and the LGBTQ+ Student Alliance will be housed under this sect of Student Life.

“It was important for us to redefine and make sure that the scope of those services are not confused,” Surratt said. “They serve all students. … Broadening the scope of it and the name of it to make sure it’s indicative of the kind of broad function of what we should be doing and what we have been doing basically for student involvement (and) leadership on campus.”

Stitt signed the executive order in December, requiring state agencies and universities to review the necessity and efficiency of DEI positions, departments, activities, procedures and programs.

Since then, OU has changed its Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to the Division of Access and Opportunity and those offices located in Copeland Hall have been closed for the remainder of the spring semester.

OU also launched a website to provide updates and answer frequently asked questions about the order. The website read that offices focused on serving 2SLGBTQ+ students likely violate the order.

At a January meeting with VPAC, OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. told student leaders and university officials in the room that nobody would lose their job at the university as a result of the executive order. Harroz said at the time that OU will continue to support and uplift diversity as it is a central value and pillar of the university.

Diversity is specifically mentioned in OU’s Lead On, University Strategic Plan, which will be reviewed and altered this summer and fall, Harroz told OU Daily during a sit-down interview this month.

The executive order allows for specific exemptions, such as registered student organizations which do not have to follow the order.

Surratt said during the question and answers session that these changes or shifts are not the last or final changes to be had due to the executive order. Surratt said the Division of Student Affairs wanted to be as transparent as possible with students on campus, even if all changes are not official or have not been finalized.

Keith wrote that more adjustments will come, and the university is already planning more changes.

"We're exploring various ways to effectively communicate these changes campus-wide," Keith wrote. "Our aim is to comply with the order while maintaining our core values and ensuring that the level of support for our students remains unchanged."

Surratt also said during the question and answers session that the university wants to ensure new students and returning students are able to find these services still even if they’re under a new name or housed in a different sect of campus. He said OU is brainstorming ways to broadcast these changes more broadly and is thinking through more changes to come.

Keith wrote that the division and university wants to help new and returning students access services and be updated on broader changes as a result of the executive order.

"We are committed to being transparent with our students about these upcoming changes,” Keith wrote. "Our goal is to ensure that both new and returning students can easily access these services, regardless of the changes in name or location."

The university and academic colleges will also make changes ahead of the May 31 deadline, in which OU is required to sign a letter of attestation saying it has complied with the order.

Surratt said during the question and answers session that the executive order has leeway, especially for student groups and programming, so his hope is though these changes are coming and will take adjustment, he hopes students’ level of support from the university does not decrease.

“How do we comply with the order while also kind of maintaining both our values and also support for our students and the way we kind of function for you all? …” Surratt said during the VPAC meeting Wednesday. “Ideally from a student perspective, and my hope is that how you're served by the institution is not drastically impacted.”

Keith wrote the broader changes to the division are made to still offer students the service and support they need while at the university.

"The essence of our mission is to ensure that the quality of service and support we provide is not compromised by these changes," Keith wrote.

Closures on a national level

Since 2023, state legislators across the U.S. and Congress have introduced 84 anti-DEI bills as of April 25. Some of these bills would prohibit universities from having DEI offices or staff, mandatory diversity training, diversity statements or identity-based preferences for hiring or admissions.

Texas banned diversity, equity and inclusion at public institutions of higher education via Senate Bill 17, which went into effect on Jan. 1. As a result of the law, universities shuttered offices and services for various identity-based student groups.

University of Texas at Austin laid off nearly 50 employees who worked in DEI spaces at the university and closed its Division of Campus and Community Engagement to comply with the new law. Texas A&M University closed its Office of Diversity in 2023 and reassigned the staff in that office to other duties. In August 2023, the University of Houston closed its LGBTQ Resource Center and its Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Maria Gonzalez, a University of Houston English professor, said legislative attacks on DEI, such as Texas SB 17 or Oklahoma’s executive order, are devastating for college campuses.

Gonzalez was among the core group of faculty and students who helped first establish the LGBTQ Resource Center on the University of Houston’s campus, and she said while it has been disheartening to lose that safe space, the way students can combat DEI-banning bills like Texas SB 17 and the executive order is to continue to meet and advocate for their interests.

“These people know what they're doing by shutting us down,” Gonzalez told OU Daily in March. “They've done the research, and our job is to double down.”

She said in the wake of the University of Houston’s LGBTQ Resource Center closing, student groups, faculty and alumni groups have taken on more responsibility for providing resources and community for students.

Gonzalez said similar programming to OU’s GEC was at the University of Houston’s LGBTQ Resource Center. Nearly all programming was wiped.

Gonzalez said, while anti-DEI legislation remove designated safe spaces in schools and universities, legislatures will never be able to remove the passion and drive of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

“They want to outlaw LGBTQ+ people, they want to erase us.” Gonzalez said. “Well, they can't.”

This article was originally published by OU Daily .

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A Recap: AWARE’s 39th Annual General Meeting 2024

May 3rd, 2024 | AGM and AWARE Updates , News

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On Saturday, 27 April 2024, AWARE held its 39th Annual General Meeting, the first in-person Board Elections since 2018. At the AGM, which AWARE President Ong Soh Chin presided over, 80 members were present. 

In her opening remarks, Ms. Ong reminded all members and staff present that AWARE needs to remain strong, steadfast, and vigilant, particularly in this climate of turmoil and disruption around the world. She also highlighted the importance of bouncing back from challenges. AWARE clocked a record fundraising year with $2,980,000 raised. She added that with the expansion of the senior leadership team, AWARE will only grow from strength to strength. 

After Ms. Ong’s introduction, AWARE representatives gave updates on each department’s key work during 2023. The full details can be found in the Annual Report 2023 , but below is a summary. 

The CARE Department comprises the Women’s Care Centre (WCC) and the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) and was represented by Stephanie Tolentino, Assistant Manager (Case Management and Counselling), together with Hon Hui Yi (pictured below) , Senior Executive (Case Management) . In 2023, CARE supported 3,378 across all services, which translates to 65 clients per week. 

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WCC launched their brand new multilingual callback service, allowing more non-English speaking women access to the help they need. As a result, the Women’s Helpline received over 4,000 calls, with close to 3,000 hours of support given to clients. 

Additionally, WCC conducted close to 2,000 counselling sessions with clients, with 93% of those surveyed feeling empowered to understand themselves and their choices after the services. WCC also aided 122 clients who sought help from the legal clinic. Meanwhile, SACC served 786 clients in 2022, with the majority of cases involving physical sexual violence. Across services, close to nine in 10 clients felt well-supported through counselling, case management, legal support, and befriending services. 

Other highlights of the year for SACC include training caseworkers on sexual assault support, investing in staff wellbeing in order to minimise burnout and communicating openly on how CARE staff can be better supported. 

Caroline Callow, Senior Consultant and Organisational Development Facilitator at Catalyse , reported that in 2023, Catalyse focused on three key pillars of offerings: harassment prevention consulting and advising, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consulting and training, coaching, and development. 

The team focused on promoting more comprehensive engagements beyond one-off training sessions, revamped their website, and intensified electronic direct mail (EDM) communications and social media platforms to leverage their extensive reach. By the end of 2023, the proportion of the Catalyse client base represented by Global Fortune 500 organisations had increased by 15% from 2022. Looking ahead to 2024, Catalyse aims to leverage the Workplace Fairness Act to strengthen its position as trauma-informed experts, to move forward with the important work of running workplace investigations and to facilitate conversations around restorative justice. 

Sugidha Nithiananthan, Director of Advocacy, Research and Communications (ARC) , highlighted the four main areas that the department had focussed on in 2023: gender-based violence, marginalised women and girls, families and caregiving and workplace fairness. Some of the key achievements of 2023 include the successful inclusion of coercive control as abuse in legislation by Minister Sun Xueling, the doubling of paternity leave and the Workplace Harassment Discrimination Advisory (WHDA) which served a total of 252 clients in 2023. 

In terms of research, ARC has started on a report on transnational families with the South Central Community Family Service Centre, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Finally, Ms. Nithiananthan mentioned that AWARE has reached a combined following of almost 51,000 across all platforms and has maintained a high media coverage of 314 media mentions in 2023. 

Isabella Tan, Executive of Fundraising , provided a comprehensive overview of the work that the department has done for the past year. As previously mentioned, 2023 was a milestone year as the organisation managed to raise a total of close to $2,980,000, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels. It was particularly heartening to the team that AWARE’s 11th Annual Ball, which is the main source of fundraising, managed to raise a record-breaking $771,000. 

Other successful campaigns that also displayed the strength of AWARE not just as an insular organisation but as a diverse community included Voices for Change, which raised $504,000 in total. Moving forward, seeing as there has been a decreasing trend in individual giving, the team has decided to make increasing individual donations one of its main priorities. 

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The Support, Partner and Act through Community Engagement (S.P.A.C.E) department, consisting of Shamima Rafi, Manager, and Izzaty Ishak (pictured above) , Senior Executive , shared that the team had three key focuses when planning for capacity-building activities in 2023. These three areas were: eradicating sexual violence, providing comprehensive sex education and building feminist leadership. Ms. Shamima shared that since 2021, the Sexual Assault First Responder Training workshops have trained close to 1,500 participants. In 2023, the S.P.A.C.E team held nine public runs and six dedicated runs for student leaders from institutes of higher learning. 

Another highlight of 2023 was making comprehensive sex education more accessible to disadvantaged communities, which saw the team collaborate with social service agencies such as Methodist Welfare Services Girls’ Residence and Lutheran Community Care Services. In 2024, the department seeks to explore and innovate beyond boundaries as it seeks to establish a new online portal for sex education, kickstart feminist fellowships amongst change makers aligned with AWARE’s values and engage men in conversations on what healthy masculinity can and should look like. 

Yasmine Tan, Director of Operations , highlighted that 2023 was the year of building organisational capacity and leading operational functions. Using a three-step framework of understanding, improving and preparing, with the Operations team conducting employee surveys and polls to collect feedback from staff. Based on this understanding, the team tidied up the organisation’s internal communications by creating a one-stop depository cataloguing important organisation information, prioritising staff bonding, and establishing a comprehensive risk management policy. Looking at the year ahead, the team aims to improve AWARE’s retention rate by looking at solutions to increase staff capacity. 

The AGM concluded with the Election of the President and the new Board (pictured below) for 2024-2026. Voting for non-standard items this year was via secret ballot using Balotilo, an e-voting platform.

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This year’s nominees reflect the diversity of AWARE’s community, with the elected Board members ranging in age from 34 to 62 and backgrounds in law, advertising, finance, philanthropy, and various corporate environments.

Many of the elected Board are not only long-time members of AWARE but also change makers and leaders in both civil society and the private sector.

Aarathi Arumugam, who previously acted as the Treasurer for two terms, was elected as AWARE President for the upcoming term. 

Lihui Zeng and Anju Patwardhan ran unopposed as Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer, respectively. The other six board positions were contested, and the successful candidates were: Filzah Sumartono, Ijin Tan, Joanne Theseira, Kanak Muchhal, Penelope Shone, and Stacey Choe. 

Ms. Ong rounds out the board, and will remain on for a year as the immediate past president. 

She expressed her gratitude towards members and the Board, invited members to join her in thanking the staff and the outgoing Board, and handed the baton over to incoming AWARE President, Ms. Arumugam.

This recap was written by Cassandra Goh, and photos by Sandra Chua and Cecilia Woo.

Countries in Asia are spending millions to reverse falling fertility rates. But throwing money at the issue isn't working

A woman wearing a black top holding a baby while sitting on a couch

The country with the lowest fertility rate in the world is considering paying parents 100 million won ($112,000) in cash for each baby born.

South Korea’s civil rights commission conducted a survey last month, aiming to gauge the opinion of citizens before implementing the program. 

The commission is proposing to spend 23 trillion won ($26 million) annually on the program, which is about half of the national budget allocated to initiatives addressing low birth rates.

"Through this survey, we plan to re-evaluate the country's birth promotion policies to determine whether direct financial subsidies could be an effective solution," the commission said.

"Low birth rates are no longer an issue exclusive to certain individuals. It is a matter that both the government and the private sector should work together to resolve." 

The fertility rate is a metric used to express the average number of children a woman can be expected to have during her reproductive lifetime.

South Korea offers public housing 

Ahead of South Korea's legislative elections in April, the country's major political parties vowed more public housing and low interest loans in efforts to make life easier for young families.

It's hoped these kinds of measures will help stem population decline.

Seoul, where the 0.55 fertility rate is the lowest in the country, has been at the forefront of these promises. 

A parents pushes a stroller with a baby in a park

Last Sunday, the city's government announced it would provide subsidies to couples who don't own houses and who have newborns from 2025, the Korea Herald reported. 

For those who qualify, the program plans to provide 300,000 won ($334) per newborn per month for a maximum of two years. 

Amid rising costs of living, gender inequality and harsh workplace cultures, a similar story of falling fertility rates is unfolding across many parts of Asia.

So countries are spending big in schemes to try and persuade people to have more children.

China paying for IVF treatment and childcare

Much of China's demographic downturn is the result of its one-child policy from 1980 to 2015.

Since 2021, couples have been allowed to have up to three children – but this hasn't been effective. 

Provinces and even companies are offering everything from cash subsidies to assistance with child care and paying for fertility treatments like IVF.

A mother walks with her twin daughters on a street

In the city of Hangzhou, the government gave parents with two children a one-off subsidy worth around $4,300 for having a third child in 2023, according to the local Zhejiang Daily.

In June 2023, Beijing's government announced it would cover 16 types of assisted reproduction technology.

In-vitro fertilisation (IVF), embryo transplantation, freezing and storing semen are some of the treatments included under basic insurance.

Around a similar time, one of the world’s largest online travel agencies, China's Trip.com, introduced childcare subsidies worth 1 billion yuan ($210 million) to encourage its employees to have kids.

Workers who have been with the company for at least three years will receive an annual bonus of 10,000 yuan ($2,150) for five years for every child born.

"Through the introduction of this new childcare benefit, we aim to provide financial support that will encourage our employees to start or grow their families without compromising on their professional goals and achievements," Trip.com executive chairman James Liang said.

Japan proposes student loans and more childcare 

The next few years are possibly "a last chance" for Japan to reverse its declining fertility rate, Children's Policies Minister Masanobu Ogura said last year. 

If the recent trend continues, the young population will shrink at twice the current pace by the 2030s, he said.

To address the issue, Mr Ogura proposed a plan that included more government subsidies for child rearing, greater access to childcare services and efforts to shift cultural mindsets around gender equality.

A mother carrying a baby while standing underneath cherry blossom trees in full bloom

"While diverse views about marriage, childbirth and child-rearing should be respected, we want to make a society where young generations can marry, have and raise children as they wish," he said.

The proposal was submitted to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for further consideration. 

Currently, Japan offers a lump sum grant of ¥500,000 ($4,900) to new parents for each child.

There's also a child-rearing allowance that gives families with newborns ¥15,000 ($146) a month until their child reaches the age of three.

From four to 15, a monthly allowance of ¥10,000 ($98) is provided. 

Taiwan provides subsidised kindergarten and leave

Taiwan and Singapore's fertility rates remain among the lowest in the world.

During the pandemic, Taiwan's government extended subsidies for IVF treatment to all couples, regardless of their income.

Existing incentives include subsidised kindergarten, childcare payments and six months of paid parental leave.

A woman wearing a purple mask looks at her phone as she leans on a stroller with her baby inside.

Ahead of Taiwan's election in January, now-President William Lai said the declining birthrate should be a top priority, while opposition candidate Hou Yu-ih proposed more subsidies for families with three children and egg-freezing.

Singapore offers savings accounts for children

As for Singapore, the government boosted its baby bonus scheme, giving out as much as S$10,000 ($11,200) in cash for first and second children.

It increases to S$13,000 ($14,600) for your third and subsequent children.

"This helps to lighten the financial outlay when it comes to raising your child," Singapore's government says. 

Alongside the cash, the scheme offers a special savings account for children and comes with an initial deposit of S$5,000 ($5,600).

Four weeks of paternity leave for working fathers, 12 days of unpaid leave for each parent and opening an additional 22,000 preschool centres from 2022-2024 are also in the mix in Singapore.

Has any of this been effective?

Many of these policies have been in place across Asia for years, but fertility rates continue to decline.

Workaholic cultures, high costs of living, difficulties in accessing child care and gender inequality are all reasons.

That's according to Australian National University’s Peter McDonald, who is an emeritus professor of demography.

"Employers in East Asia make very little effort to accommodate the combination of work and family," he told the ABC.

"They have long working hours and demands that the worker's first priority must always be the firm, not the family."

People sitting inside a carriage of a train

Professor McDonald said many government policies were "not sufficiently generous to change people's behaviour".

"That is, not sufficient to offset the direct and indirect costs of the child," he said.

His points about being forced to choose work over family are echoed by Xiujian Peng, a population expert at Victoria University.

"Work-life balance does not exist in many Asian countries," Dr Peng told the ABC. 

Dr Peng says brutal work cultures like "996" in China, "Kwarosa" in South Korea and "Karoshi" in Japan are the root cause for people not wanting to start a family. 

"How can people work these kinds of long hours be expected to have the time and energy to look after a child?"

Gender inequality another factor

Entrenched sexism and gender discrimination have long been hot topics in East Asia.

A 2022 survey revealed  30 per cent of Korean office workers had experienced some form of workplace harassment  in the past year, with women and part-time workers more likely to be the victims.

It's "very common" for employers to discriminate against female employees who even think about having a baby, Professor McDonald said. 

"Women in East Asia are well aware that their career progress will be immediately halted if they have a baby."

A group of women wearing black office clothing and heels walking in the city

Professor McDonald said governments were well aware of the issues.

"But it seems the employers are too powerful and are able to resist radical change," he said. 

"From the employers' perspective, they see themselves in competition with other firms, and with other countries, and keeping labour costs low is a central strategy for maintaining their competitiveness."

Money not enough to fix deep-rooted issues

Dr Peng said throwing money at people was not enough to convince them to have children.

"The financial incentives are important but not effective on its own. You need to combine economic factors with all the others — social, cultural and political."

"Governments first need to address the lack of work-life balance. There needs to be a greater push for flexible working environments," she said.

Dr Peng said it should start with the bare minimum: employees not being expected to stay back and work beyond their hours, or to answer calls and emails after they finish.

A woman wearing a blazer walks among a crowd of people.

As countries around the region employ various strategies to get people to have kids, Professor McDonald has a blunt reminder of what's at stake.

"Schools start to run out of pupils, the number of new entrants to the labour force falls off sharply affecting national product and the population ages rapidly putting strain on the capacity to support the increasing aged population," he said. 

"The severity and speed of these consequences depends on how fast and how far the fertility rate falls."

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  • Black Americans Firmly Support Gender Equality but Are Split on Transgender and Nonbinary Issues   

1. Black Americans’ views of gender equality in society and gender roles in families

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Black Americans are largely in support of gender equality between women and men and are critical of society’s lack of progress in the United States.

For many Black adults, their support of gender equality aligns with their spiritual or moral beliefs. Large majorities say opposing gender discrimination is essential to what those beliefs mean to them.

However, those who attend religious services at least a few times a year say their congregations often do not share their egalitarian views. Whereas Black adults think men and women should share financial responsibilities for their families equally, their congregations emphasize this role for men more than they do for women.

Findings in this chapter are drawn from two Pew Research Center surveys of U.S. adults conducted in 2019 and 2020.

The majority of Black adults say it is very important for women to have equal rights with men in the U.S. (79%), according to a Center survey conducted March 18 to April 1, 2020. 2 Only 18% say it is somewhat important, while 3% say it is not too or not at all important.  

Three-quarters or more of Black men (76%) and Black women (82%) say it very important for women to have equal rights with men, as do 81% of Black adults 18 to 49 and 77% of those 50 and older.

Black Americans’ views on gender equality vary by educational attainment. About nine-in-ten Black adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education (89%) say that women having equal rights with men is very important. Though still a majority, Black adults with some college experience (78%) and those with a high school diploma or less (75%) are less likely to say this.

Bar chart showing 69% of Black adults say the U.S. has not gone far enough in giving women equal rights with men

While most Black adults favor gender equality, they are also critical of the lack of progress toward it in the United States. About seven-in-ten Black adults (69%) say the U.S. has not gone far enough when it comes to giving women equal rights with men. Much smaller shares say the speed of this progress has been about right (23%) or has gone too far (7%). Black adults’ views on this question differ by gender, age and education.  

About three-quarters of Black women (76%) and Black adults 50 and older (76%) say the U.S. has not gone far enough when it comes to gender equality, compared with 61% of Black men and 64% of Black adults under 50.

About eight-in-ten Black adults with a bachelor’s degree (79%) say the country has not gone far enough in giving women equal rights with men, as compared with 68% of Black adults with some college experience and 65% with a high school diploma or less.

Overall, Black adults (69%) are more likely than all U.S. adults (57%) to say the U.S. has not gone far enough when it comes to gender equality.

Among Black adults who say the U.S. has not gone far enough in giving women equal rights with men, three-quarters say it is at least somewhat likely that women in the U.S. will eventually have those rights (75%). However, only 24% say it is very likely, similar to the share that says it is not too or not at all likely (25%).

Black women who say the country has not gone far enough in giving women equal rights are more pessimistic about the prospect of achieving gender equality in the U.S. than Black men. About three-in-ten Black women say it is not too or not at all likely that women will eventually have equal rights with men (31%). Only 17% of Black men say the same. 

Bar chart showing about three-quarters of Black adults say the gains women have made in society have not come at the expense of men

Black women and men not only differ in their views on the progress of gender equality in the country, they also differ on the costs. About a quarter of Black men say the gains women have made in society have come at the expense of men (26%). Smaller shares of Black women (17%) say the same. Still, most Black men (71%) say these gains have not come at the expense of men.  

Although majorities of Black adults across age and education groups say the gains that women have made have not come at the expense of men, Black adults 50 and older and those with college experience (both with and without bachelor’s degrees) are the most likely to say this.

Bar chart showing Black adults are more likely to have a conversation about gender equality with family or friends than post about it on social media or attend a protest

When it comes to sharing their views about gender and gender equality, Black adults are more likely to do so in conversations with family or friends (51%) than to post or share content on social networking sites (23%), contribute money to an organization working on gender issues (13%), contact a public official to express their opinion (9%) or attend a protest or rally (8%), according to the 2020 survey.    

Some 56% of Black women say they have conversations about gender or gender equality with family and friends, and 46% of Black men say they do the same. Black women (29%) are more likely than Black men (15%) to post about gender issues on social media.

Black adults who have a bachelor’s degree (67%) are more likely than those with a high school diploma or less (42%) to have conversations about gender and gender equality with relatives and friends.

And Black adults ages 18 to 49 (51%) are about as likely as those 50 and older (52%) to have conversations about gender and gender equality with their family or friends.

Pie chart showing about seven-in-ten Black adults say opposing sexism is essential to their faith or sense of morality

Many Black Americans see their views on gender equality as a core part of their religion or sense of morality, according to a Center survey of U.S. adults, with a large sample of Black adults, conducted Nov. 19, 2019, through June 3, 2020. 3

Two-thirds of Black adults are Protestant Christians (66%), while others are Catholic (6%), members of other Christian faiths such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (3%), members of non-Christian faiths such as Islam (3%), or unaffiliated with a religion (21%).

About seven-in-ten Black adults, regardless of their religious affiliation, say opposing sexism or discrimination against women is essential to their faith or sense of morality (71%). Much smaller shares of Black adults say opposing sexism is important but not essential to their faith or sense of morality (19%) or not important at all (7%).

Roughly seven-in-ten Black adults across genders and age groups say opposing sexism is essential to their faith or sense of morality. However, Black adults with a high school diploma or less (64%) are less likely than those with a bachelor’s degree (76%) or those who have some college experience (73%) to say this.

Although the majority of Black adults say opposing sexism is essential to their faith or sense of morality, only about three-in-ten Black adults who attend religious services at least a few times a year (28%) say they heard a sermon on sexism in the year prior to the survey. 4

Bar chart showing majority of Black Americans say parents should equally share financial and childrearing responsibilities in families

Black Americans’ broad acceptance of gender equality carries over to their views of gender roles in their families. The majority say mothers and fathers should be equally responsible for family finances in households where both are present (73%), while a quarter say that fathers should take the lead. 

Black women (76%) are somewhat more likely than Black men (69%) to say mothers and fathers should share financial responsibilities equally. Though still a majority, Black adults ages 18 to 49 (75%) are slightly more likely to say this than those 50 and older (70%). And about three-quarters of Black adults across all education levels say that mothers and fathers should share family financial responsibilities equally.

An even larger majority of Black Americans believe that mothers and fathers should split child care responsibilities in households where both parents are present (86%). Most demographic subgroups of Black adults share this view, with few differences among them.

Although Black adults take these egalitarian stances on gender roles in their personal lives, many of them belong to congregations with different views. Roughly 60% of Black adults attend religious services at least annually. This includes 33% who attend weekly or more. And among those who attend annually, 60% go to houses of worship where the majority of the congregation and the clergy is Black – meaning that Black adults are hearing these gendered messages about Black families from Black religious leaders in predominantly Black religious spaces.

Bar chart showing many Black Americans say their congregations emphasize men’s more than women’s roles in families and communities

About seven-in-ten Black adults who attend religious services at least a few times a year say their congregations place a lot of emphasis on the need for both men (71%) and women (69%) to be involved parents.

But when it comes to being involved in congregations and being role models in Black communities, somewhat fewer hear these messages emphasized for women than men. For instance, 61% of Black congregants say their houses of worship strongly emphasize the need for men to be good role models, and 52% hear this emphasized for women.  

There is an especially large gap on the issue of financial support within families: Only about a third of Black adults who attend religious services at least a few times a year (35%) say that their congregations stress that women should support their families financially, compared with 64% who say their congregations emphasize this for men.

  • In this survey, Black adults only include U.S. adults who are single-race Black and have no Hispanic background, unless otherwise noted. ↩
  • In this survey, Black adults include those who say their race is Black alone and non-Hispanic, Black and at least one other race and non-Hispanic, or Black and Hispanic. ↩
  • This survey was conducted from Nov. 19, 2019, to June 3, 2020, with most respondents participating in January 2020. ↩

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