There have been notable efforts to progress women's development, particularly in the workplace, in Singapore in recent years. The Whitepaper on Singapore Women's Development was a groundbreaking report launched at the end of March 2022 detailing current progress towards gender equality in Singapore and 25 collective action plans by the government and the community designed to improve the lives of women in the country .
Women in Singapore have equal rights and protection at a legal level in the workplace under the Employment Act and other legislation. Employment rates for women are increasing (from 53% in 1994 to 75% in 2021), including at more senior levels although overall figures still remain low. The percentage of women on boards of Singapore's Top 100 listed companies increased from 7.5% in 2014 to 19.7% in January 2-22 . Although women make up around 64% of the labour force, Singapore's gender pay gap remains around 16%, a figure that has changed very little over the past 20 years .
Women represent a higher-than-average percentage of total STEM intake in autonomous Universities at 41%. However, gaps seem to widen when women enter the workforce. Only 58% of women with STEM qualifications work in related jobs, compared to 70% of men, and only two thirds of women who start their careers in STEM stay on in the field. Although women have a high level of interest in STEM subjects, they are being drawn away from careers in STEM - this suggests that workplaces in these fields are not places where women thrive .
A significant barrier for women in the workplace in Singapore include high levels of workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Research reveals that over 70% of women in Singapore agree that gender discrimination exists in the workplace . Furthermore, a 2021 survey showed that 2 in 5 workers encountered some form of workplace sexual harassment in the preceding five years and 163 new cases of technology-facilitated sexual violence against women were reported in 2021 .
Another significant barrier for women's equal economic participation at all levels is inequality in domestic and care work. Women in Singapore face a "triple shift" that includes their careers, raising children and caring for elderly parents. A Mckinsey study found that women and mothers are three times as likely as fathers to do most of the housework and caregiving and, although Singapore's full-time female employment rate has been rising over the past 10 years, this has not been mirrored by greater equality in shares of domestic and unpaid care work . Furthermore, stay-at-home fathers in Singapore face stigma and family workplace policies continue to signal that childcare is a woman's responsibility and therefore reinforce harmful gender stereotypes .
Women's Participation in Politics
A record number of women entered Singapore's Parliament after the 2020 election so that 29% of seats available were help by women, a figure that has remained largely unchanged since but is an improvement from 23% in 2019 and is the highest figure to date. It is worth noting that, in 1996, this figure was 5%. There is still much to be done to improve diversity in Singapore's Parliament, however the general upward trend is promising.
Violence Against Women and Girls
The Ministry of Social and Family Development in Singapore defines family abuse as a "broad range of controlling behaviour which often takes a physical, sexual and/or psychological nature, and typically involves fear, harm, intimidation and emotional deprivation. This may include verbal abuse, threats, harassment, intimidation and controlling behaviour." This definition extends the understanding of abuse to include coercive and controlling behaviour, however it does not specifically mention economic and/or financial abuse, which is often left out of many definitions of domestic abuse yet is an important form of abuse in its own right.
Survey findings by IPSOS reveal a disconnect between the legal definition of domestic abuse and what many Singaporeans perceive domestic abuse to be. 84% of survey respondents believe hitting a spouse and leaving a physical wound constitutes domestic abuse, but this drops to 75% if one hits a spouse and does not leave a physical wound. 45% do not consider restricting someone's access to healthcare abusive behaviour, 52% do not consider exerting control over a spouse's financial freedom and 44% do not consider causing a spouse to have lower self esteem to be abusive behaviour .
The same survey revealed that 3 in 10 Singaporeans say they or someone close to them have experienced domestic abuse. Levels of domestic violence were reported to rise during lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. From April to May 2020, the Singapore Police Force received 476 police reports filed for offences associated with family violence. Despite this, 40% of Singaporeans think that domestic abuse is not prevalent in Singapore .
Digital sexual violence has become a significant problem in Singapore in recent years as cases of online violence, including online stalking and revenge porn, tripled in 2018 compared to 2016. More than half of the cases involved images including illicit filming, distribution of nude photos and upskirting. The country saw several high-profile cases in 2019, including one of a university students who was filmed in the shower and another case where nude photos of a woman were distributed in an online chat group. Several parliamentary reforms were passed in response, including new laws against voyeurism, upskirting and unsolicited intimate images with maximum jail sentences ranging from two to five years . Two in five Singaporeans say they have experienced online abuse or seen sexist content in the past two years .
Separate research conducted by IPSOS and AWARE reveal that there is also progress to be made in public understandings and misconceptions surrounding gender-based violence and abuse, with younger men holding the most conservative views across the demographic. The IPSOS survey, conducted in March 2022, revealed that 1 in 3 Singaporean men believe feminism does more harm than good and that traditional masculinity is under threat, compared to 14% of women. Furthermore, one quarter of Singaporeans do not believe that gender inequality exists. One-fifth agree that violence against women is often provoked by the victim, including 14% of women, and a similar proportion say that women who report being abused often make up or exaggerate claims (27% of men and 8% of women) . An attitudinal study conducted by AWARE between 2012-2013 revealed that 40% of respondents aged 18-39 and over 50% of respondents aged 40 and above agree that women who wear provocative clothing are "asking for it" and should bear responsibility for harassment .
Although stereotypes and stigma surrounding gender-based violence and abuse persist - 1 in 5 believe domestic abuse should not be reported by others as it is more important to preserve the sanctity of marriage - data also reveals that 82% of Singaporeans agree that it is their responsibility to act if they encounter cases of domestic abuse. 84% agree that there is a need to talk more about how the issue can be countered or dealt with. Despite a willingness to act against abuse and violence in the community, 41% are unclear on what to do if they or someone close to them experience domestic abuse, revealing a key opportunity for policymakers and frontline organisations to increase public awareness and visibility on these issues .
Last updated February 2023