of Women’s Charter Bill
March 22, 1961 — Reading of Women’s Charter Bill, Legislative Assembly, Singapore
Mr Speaker, we are workers preparing to reform society. I, representing thousands of workers in Singapore, wish to express my support of the Bill and to thank the Government, especially my colleague, the Minister for Labour and Law, who has re-introduced the Women’s Charter today.
The Women’s Charter fully indicates that the P.A.P. Government is firm in trying to solve women’s problems. We are a socialist Government. For the past 22 months of government, we have tried our best to reform the backwardness of women. Today, in this Assembly here, we want to express the attitude of the Party towards women, and also to express the views and the attitude of the Government.
In the 1959 general election, the P.A.P. Government said women’s problems are problems to be resolved after the general election. We have clearly expressed out attitude towards women’s problems in our Party’s Manual. We realise that we have to wait until a true and just society is established before we can resolve women’s problems. In a non-socialist government, it is very difficult to find any equality. The difference between men and women presents a problem. In a socialist society, women will not be exploited. This is the kind of society that we the P.A.P. want to establish. In a just and equal society, the P.A.P. is determined to try its best to organise all the people to fight for a common aim. It is indeed a very difficult and long-term task to establish this happy society. For example, at present women’s problems are difficult to solve because women have been oppressed in the past. Take Singapore for instance. At present there exist feudalistic ideas and systems. Many colonialistic ideas still exist. Therefore, women’s problems are still very difficult to solve because women are faced with these hardships. Nowadays, the opportunities for the education of women are very rare and greatly curtailed. This is because many people still regard women as only suitable for work in the home and not outside in society. Therefore, women’s opportunities to participate in society are very little. Their lot in life is simply to work very hard in exchange for a bare meal. Under these circumstances, they have been oppressed and exploited by the capitalists. Women live in ignorance, and do not see their own future. Many women waste their money in superstitious beliefs and gambling. They are oppressed without realising it. In the rural areas, women’s conditions are even worse. Many women villagers do not know what their relationship with society is. After more than one hundred years of colonialistic control, they still do not know their difficulties. Education to the village women means nothing to them. They base their hopes on gambling like chap-ji-ki and other games and superstitious beliefs.
Let us see the women in the city area. Except the labourers, women in other walks of life still suffer oppression. Their opportunities are not equal. For example, career women are treated as flowers in a vase. They are not treated equally. Many employers treat women as beautiful decorations. Because of society’s inequalities, women regard themselves as decorations and only suitable for work in the home.
Many men marry more than one wife. Therefore, women do not enjoy full equality in the home. They do not enjoy political equality. When they are helpless, they are abandoned by their husbands and deprived of their basic rights.
Because of the above-mentioned facts, women’s problems will have to be solved. However, there still exist some different conditions in our society. It is very important to solve all these problems. We have here many races- Chinese, Malay, Indian and so on. Since every race has its peculiarities, traditions and customs, there exist different forms of women’s problems. We cannot solve all these problems with one method. We have to solve them with a common method. Take, for example, religious problems. We should be very careful in solving them. We, the P.A.P. Government, fully respect the religions and rights to all races. So we must be very careful, when trying to solve the religious problems of women, not to go against their religious beliefs.
The Government has re-introduced the Women’s Charter. What are its effects upon the women’s movement? Firstly, the Women’s Charter will prevent husbands from abandoning their wives. The Bill will not allow a man to marry more than one wife. If a husband abandons his wife as he likes, then he will be punished, because abandoning a wife will have adverse effects on the family as well as on society as a whole. We must make a united effort to build a good family and a good society.
This Bill will arouse the emotions of all the women in Singapore who are suffering and make them realise the fact. We must fight for equality among men and women. This Bill will also enhance women’s position in society. It will give the women’s movement a very flat and level road on which to travel. It will strengthen the confidence of women in building a good society.
This Bill also rectifies the many mistakes made in the past. Although this Bill will not provide for equal pay among men and women, it will, however, make them fully realise their political, educational, cultural, and economic equality in society. This must be made possible if a good society is to be established. Until all this is realised, we cannot find another society in which all these conditions can be fulfilled. This Bill acts as a lighthouse on the road to building a good society. It will make us work harder to attain a better society.
I must clearly point out here that when the Bill becomes law, many of the women’s problems will be finally resolved. This shows that the women’s movement has a very good beginning. Therefore, thousands of women must, under these good conditions, arouse other women, who are suffering, to work together and partake in the building of a society which will be for the welfare of all the people, and to unite with all the other people in building a happy Malaya, it is only with this object in view that we could build a good society.
We of the P.A.P. have suffered hardship and have tried our best to fulfil our Five-Year Plan. We introduce this Bill in order to uphold the rights of women, so that all their problems will be easily resolved. At the same time, we have tried our best to discover the inequalities of men and women in the civil service. We pay great attention to women’s problems. These problems were not looked after by the previous governments.
Finally, let us, all the sisters in Singapore, try our best and make use of our lives to work hard for the emancipation of women so as to build a just and equal socialistic society.
Source: Singapore Parliamentary Debates,Vol. 14, Sitting 16, Col. 1199-1202.