Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam was part of the panel for the Tembusu Forum on March 8 discussing issues of justice, equality and respect for women in Singapore.
The dialogue session, held on International Women's Day, was moderated by Rector of Tembusu College Tommy Koh.
The other panellists were executive director of AWARE Corinna Lim, as well as Junie Foo, president of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations.
Is Singapore ready for a female PM?
During the dialogue, a political science student raised the question on whether Singapore is ready for a female prime minister.
Directing the question to Shanmugam, she pointed out that the central executive committee of the People's Action Party comprises only three women.
She asked him how political participation can be increased among females.
In response, Shanmugam highlighted the difficulties in balancing professional and political life.
"Your weekends are pretty much completely taken up. If you have an active professional life, you are also spending your weekends preparing for them... And then at night, three times a week, you are in your constituency. Weekends, you are in your constituency, parliamentary sessions you are juggling… it takes a toll on you, on your family life, on your work."
Not many men are prepared to make such a sacrifice, he said, adding that for women, there is also "often the added question of the family".
Shanmugam also pointed out that the PAP does want more women MPs, and will "actively scour talent".
However, he added that society should ask how it can encourage more women to enter politics, or to reduce the "implicit burden on women" at home?
Mindset change to encourage more women to enter politics
Shanmugam said that it's a question of "mindset change" in society, and what the government can do is to encourage that change of mindset:
"If you ask the boys here, how many of them are prepared to contribute to 50 per cent of work at home? The government doesn't do child-rearing, washing of dishes or cooking at home... What the government can do is encourage that change of mindset to allow people to change. But it's going to take a lot of effort."
"Fundamental mindset change"
This mindset change was also brought up by Shanmugam during his speech, where he talked about how the idea of equality has "got to be taught from a very early age", and that both "boys and girls are to be treated equally and with respect".
He reiterated that behaviour such as uploading intimate images of a woman without her consent or revenge pornography should be seen as a "serious violation of fundamental values".
"These should not be seen as 'oh well, boys will be boys' or this is something that they did in a rash moment," he said.
During a ministerial statement in Parliament on March 5, Shanmugam had also said that offenders should expect to face the full force of the law, no matter what their academic potential may be.
According to Shanmugam, sentences must reflect that sexual and hurt offences are deeply offensive to Singapore's fundamental values.
During his Tembusu Forum speech, Shanmugam stressed that while there are differences between both genders, he thinks the right approach is to start out with the perspective that "everyone has equal rights", as opposed to "everything can be done equally".
Top photo courtesy of Tembusu College