The recently organised Institute of Policy Studies Women’s Conference 2021 threw up a number of issues on the attitudes and cultural norms in society that put women at home, at the workplace and in the community at a disadvantage. Ensuring women’s rights has been an exhausting race run across generations, encountering occasional setbacks even as it advanced incrementally in the most progressive countries. In Singapore, the Women’s Charter of 1961 remains a foundational document and baseline of Singapore’s commitment to gender equality. The Charter transformed women’s rights from an aspirational goal to being the norm by giving legislative power to the protection and advancement of their rights.
The abolition of bigamy under civil law, for example, was a revolutionary move that made the legal status of married women equal to that of their husbands. The Women’s Charter typifies the role of the legislature in upholding female rights. Certainly, social mores take time to catch up with the spirit of the law. But the law must be there in the first place to be a clear enabler. Singapore’s no-nonsense approach to sexual harassment today is an example of a legal approach that can help mould social behaviour – punitively if need be.