Push for Rights of Singapore Women’s Foreign-born

The proactive, modern women of Singapore are still shackled by obsolete policies, says the government-supported 'Remaking Singapore Committee'. Women and their children are subject to a vast array of double-standards that, they say, are born in the delivery-room and go on to thrive in society. These policies perpetuate the perception that women from Singapore are lesser citizens than their male counterparts since even their children are discriminated against. If born to a foreign father, they must apply for citizenship, while all children of male natives automatically become citizens, regardless of maternity. However, women are now educated, working, and mobile, with the ability to move abroad in search of equality, and feel that such discriminatory policies are a thing of the past. If Singapore wishes to stall the depletion of its female talent base, it is necessary for obsolete policies to be changed, the committee maintains. - YaleGlobal

Push for Rights of Singapore Women's Foreign-born

Chuang Peck Ming
Thursday, June 12, 2003

(SINGAPORE): The Remaking Singapore Committee is pushing for constitutional changes to give women equal citizenship privileges as men.

As it stands, Singapore's Constitution accords citizenship by descent to a child born abroad if his or her father is Singaporean by birth or registration. But if the child is born to a Singaporean mother and non-Singaporean father, he or she has to apply for citizenship by registration.

While the application is seldom rejected, the perception is that a child born to a Singaporean woman does not enjoy the same privilege as a child born to a Singaporean man, according to Lim Hwee Hua, who co-chairs the RSC's 'Beyond Club' Sub-Committee.

The other co-chairman is Vivian Balakrishnan.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is Minister of State for National Development, also chairs the RSC, which is intended to complement the work of the Economic Review Committee.

Among the RSC's key thrusts are to renew the vision of a Singaporean Singapore; enlarge space for Singaporeans to express and experiment; enable full participation of Singaporeans in policy-making; and promote a gracious, compassionate and cohesive society.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Ms Lim, who is also a Member of Parliament, said the issue of citizenship privileges is growing because Singaporean women have progressed in education and earning power - and they have become more mobile.

Giving them equal citizenship privileges will not only change the perception that Singapore does not value all children alike, she said, it is also consistent with the government's move to build a sense of belonging in the country.

The RSC, which has consulted some 10,000 people from all walks of life, believes equal rights and opportunities for women are key in maximising Singapore's small talent pool. It has already got the government to remove the quota on female students in the NUS's medical faculty.

The 'Beyond Club' Sub-Committee, which sought to establish what it means to be a Singaporean, is also seeking to remove the civil service's discrimination against women in medical perks.

While the practice reflects the belief that the husband is the head of the household, and has to take care of the family, the sub-committee says in its report that equal treatment of women in the civil service is in line with the principle of shared responsibility for the family.

'With the government as a major employer, it can set the tone for others to follow,' said Ms Lim.

Jennifer Lee, president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, felt the proposals are long overdue. 'The underlying rationale for both positions are outdated and do not do justice to women's progress and development, and their contribution,' she said.

'The issue (of unequal citizenship privileges) is likely to result in our losing good numbers of women who may otherwise have come home at some time. This will be quite a shame when we are constantly saying we need all the talent we can find.'

Added Tisa Ng, president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware): 'With the economic reality of more women as heads of households, the old ways of thinking about roles of men and women are outdated and do not reflect contemporary Singapore.'

The 'Beyond Careers' Sub-Committee, chaired by Minister of State (Defence) Cedric Foo, has two major thrusts in its proposals: redefine the education system to recognise and nurture a diversity of talents; and build a more inclusive society where all Singaporeans can participate and contribute in different ways according to their abilities. Among other things, the sub-committee recommends a ban on school ranking by academic performance because the ranking system can put unhealthy pressures on principals, teachers, students and parents.

The RSC 'Beyond Condo' Sub-Committee will unveil its recommendations this morning. The remaining 'Beyond Credit Card' and 'Beyond Cars' sub-committees are due to follow suit in a fortnight.

© 2003 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd