President Halimah Yacob grateful for chance to empower women as S'pore's first female president

She said it during her farewell speech on her last day as the eighth President of Singapore.

Winnie Li | September 13, 2023, 07:16 PM



On her last day as President of Singapore on Sep. 13, 2023, Halimah Yacob said at a farewell reception in Istana she is most grateful for the chance to empower women in Singapore.

She is the eighth President of Singapore and the first female President.

Inspiring women & girls as a female President

In her speech, President Halimah said that she was aware that she had the opportunity to inspire other women and girls as the first female president of Singapore.

She also revealed that many had shared with her how uplifting it was for them to see a female head of state and its strong message about women's place in Singapore society.

She said someone told her that she had "allowed people to image the president as a woman" and that "images and ideas give birth to reality."

"If I have been able to empower women in Singapore, to push the boundaries and reach their fullest potential, I am most grateful for the chance to do so."

Carrying out custodian duties during Covid-19 pandemic

Another significant event that President Halimah highlighted in her speech was the Covid-19 pandemic, during which Singapore had to make "very difficult decisions" concerning its past reserves.

While everything worked out well in the end, President Halimah said an "excruciating balance" was struck between saving for the future and immediate withdrawals to protect jobs and livelihoods.

Nevertheless, the pandemic provided an opportunity to test the working of Singapore's two-key system a decade after former president S R Nathan consented to a draw on past reserves in 2009 in response to the financial crisis.

"The government briefed me, and the Council of Presidential Advisers and we had very extensive, robust, and thorough discussions before I gave my consent. The severity of the pandemic necessitated five withdrawals as the infection spread with great speed and intensity, and the government had to respond quickly with support measures."

Creating a more caring, compassionate & just society

As for her role in uniting and rallying Singaporeans together, President Halimah said she focused on creating a "more caring, compassionate, and just society" by launching various programmes and patronising causes and community engagements.

These programmes and engagements include the Empowering for Life Fund, which supports skill upgrading, capacity-building, and employment support programmes for beneficiaries from disadvantaged families.

Istana was also made more accessible under President Halimah, particularly to Singaporeans who would otherwise have no chance of visiting it, such as hospice care patients and those suffering from debilitating motor neuron disease.

Concurrently, the President's Challenge also bolstered numerous meaningful programmes, including supporting PAVE to produce a video on child safety to teach preschoolers body safety skills and how to protect themselves from sexual abuse.

Putting S'pore onto the world map even during the pandemic

In addition to her domestic efforts, President Halimah said she had also advanced social causes on the global stage.

She cited the International Conference on Cohesive Societies, which she initiated in 2019, as an example.

The second run of the conference was held in 2022, and both conferences were "very well received with participants from many countries," according to President Halimah.

Moreover, she also helped to raise Singapore's international image, strengthen its bilateral ties, and open new economic opportunities for Singaporean companies through her diplomacy work.

During her presidency, and amidst the Covid-19 restrictions, President Halimah made 21 overseas visits, including 12 state visits.

Key public sector appointments were her own assessment

President Halimah shared that she had a "good working relationship" with the government based on "mutual respect, trust, and a clear understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities".

"The relationship was always at arm's length and conducted with great prosperity and decorum. My queries and requests for information were taken seriously, and I was always able to carry out my duties properly and independently."

Specifically, President Halimah said she made her own assessment when approving certain key public sector appointments.

Although the government has a rigorous process in place for appointing capable persons with integrity to key posts, the president's approval is another layer of checks to ensure good governance, added President Halimah.

"The Council of Presidential Advisers will thoroughly vet the candidates and in most instances, conduct face-to-face interviews with them before making their recommendation to me. I took into consideration the Council's recommendation, but made my own assessment based on the merits of the candidates."

Lessons from Covid-19 pandemic

Nearing the end of her speech, President Halimah said that the greatest lesson of the Covid-19 pandemic is how Singapore's past reserves, built "prudently and painstakingly" over the years, saved the country from a "harrowing situation".

However, the government could not have lifted Singapore safely out of the pandemic alone without Singaporeans standing together and staying united during the pandemic, she contended.

As such, Singaporeans would need to embody this same sense of unity and purpose moving forward so that Singapore can stand a better chance of keeping itself "exceptional" as a small, open economy that faces many economic challenges.

These challenges include shifting geopolitical alliances, economic rivalries, huge climate change challenges, and a rapidly ageing population.

Thanked her family & Singaporeans

Finally, President Halimah thanked her family and the people of Singapore for their support during her presidency.

She also wished former senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam all the best in discharging his duties as the next president.

Sep. 13 marks the last day of her presidency, as she had previously announced that she would not be running for a second term.

On Sep. 14, Tharman will be sworn in as her successor and Singapore's ninth president.

Top image via Halimah Yacob/Facebook