Parliamentary Question: 7 March 2019

Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) how we are doing with our target for 20% female representation in Statutory Boards and listed companies by 2020; (b) what steps are being taken to close the gender salary gap of about 20%; and © in view of the upcoming International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter, what are existing imbalances in our gender equality pursuit that we must balance for a better Singapore.

The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social and Family Development (Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim) (for the Minister for Social and Family Development): Mr Speaker, a few of the issues being asked in this Parliamentary Question (PQ) are similar to the issues being raised by Members Prof Fatimah Lateef and Ms Rahayu Mahzam in the COS cuts for MSF. May I have your permission to address the issues together when I make my reply during the MSF COS? I have spoken to the Member Ms Anthea Ong and she is agreeable to this arrangement.

The Minister of State for Social and Family Development (Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong):

In our society, we aspire to provide opportunities for all. In MSF, the Office for Women’s Development, or OWD, was set up as the national focal point on gender policy matters and for international cooperation pertaining to women. There has been much progress in these areas. But, we believe more can be done.

The OWD champions the crucial roles that women play in our society. Ms Rahayu, Ms Ong and Prof Fatimah Lateef asked about how we can advance the representation of women on boards of organisations. Doing so not only helps women to advance, but benefits organisations as well. To me, It is a win-win outcome. This work is spearheaded by the newly-formed Council for Board Diversity, or CBD. The CBD takes over from the Diversity Action Committee (or DAC), and will take on a wider scope. The representation of women on boards of Top 100 primary-listed companies on SGX had increased from 7.5% in end 2013, before the DAC was constituted, to 15.2% at the end December 2018. This is a good achievement. DAC had suggested changes to the Code of Corporate Governance, which came into effect from January 2019. This Code requires companies to disclose their board diversity policies, objectives and progress. We should see benefits from this in the coming years. The CBD will continue to encourage companies listed on the Singapore Exchange to put more women on boards, but will also engage people and public sector organisations. Currently, we have 23% women’s participation on statutory boards. We are confident that the CBD can build on this progress.

Prof Fatimah also asked about the progress of BoardAgender. Their efforts are complementary to the work of the CBD. One of their key initiatives is the SG50 Champions of Change launched in 2015, which is a network of influential individuals who pledged to support the cause.

Ms Ong highlighted the 20% pay gap between genders, derived from a ValuePenguin report. From our understanding, the figures in this report is wider than most international comparisons on gender pay gap because of the different base and definitions used.

MOM’s latest data estimates Singapore’s gender pay gap for full-time employed residents in similar occupation groups at around 10% instead. This 10% gap can be attributed to the fact that women are more likely to exit the workforce earlier, or have intermittent patterns of work, for reasons such as child-giving.

The Government’s goal is hence to empower women with choices to enter, remain in, or re-enter in the workforce. We want to support women’s desire to fulfil both their career and family aspirations. For example, MOM just announced an increase in the Work-Life Grant budget, and introduced various other initiatives. This will help jobseekers, including women planning to return to the workforce.

It is also critical for families to address gender equity at home. Men, like me, can take on more family responsibilities, so that women do not necessarily have to shoulder the lion’s share.

Ms Rahayu and Ms Ong also asked about other initiatives to empower women. The Government is committed to working with partners to cultivate a supportive environment for women in the workplace, community and at home.

We also want to ensure women feel safe and protected, and to come forward when they are not. In February this year, the Criminal Law Reform Bill was tabled in Parliament for the First Reading. The Bill will repeal marital immunity for rape. This will allow for all women to be better protected from sexual abuse.

To further support women, OWD actively engages the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, or SCWO. SCWO is the umbrella Women’s Organisation with over 500,000 women in its 50-member organisations. I am pleased to announce that OWD will introduce a seed fund for SCWO to administer. This will help women’s organisations to pilot or scale up women’s development programmes. More details will be shared by SCWO later this month. SCWO also recently launched a new “SCWO Insight Series”, which brings participants together with women leaders to discuss national issues. The SCWO will also roll out other initiatives, such as celebrating International Women’s Day this Friday. On that note, I wish all fellow Singaporeans a meaningful International Women’s Day in advance!


Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities.

She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion, environment — and volunteerism in Parliament.policy