In 1961, young girls and women in Singapore received the promise of change when the country passed the Women’s Charter legislative act. The Women’s Charter establishes the regulation of romantic and family relationships. The act keeps the door open for Singaporean women to make decisions in their lives, such as who they marry and divorce. It also protects against family violence and holds criminals accountable for offenses toward women of all ages. Though this is the intention of the Women’s Charter, the statistics for prosecution, rape, domestic violence and citizens’ views of women in Singapore do not align with it.
Equality and Domestic Violence
Singapore struggles with gender equality, with 57% of Singaporeans believing men are the head of the household and should have the upper hand in decision making. However, 52% of Singaporeans expect women to take on household roles such as chores and caregiving. Domestic violence is another issue women in Singapore frequently face. One in 10 women experiences a lifetime of physical violence by men. In addition, 83% of Singaporeans encourage women to stay in violent relationships under some circumstances, including for a child’s sake.
Unfortunately, 71% of women in Singapore who experience abuse from a partner are not likely to make a police report. This leads to six out of 10 Singaporean women suffering repeated victimization. The safety of these women is at risk due to the lack of respect fellow citizens have for women. Regarding sexual assault, 40% of Singaporeans between the ages of 18-39 and 50% of Singaporeans aged 40 and older believe that women who wear revealing clothing are asking to experience assault and should be responsible for their harassment.
The Lack of Sexual Assault Justice
The majority of women in Singapore have not received the justice that the Women’s Charter promises. On January 5, 2021, Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam announced that there were 6,988 reported cases of sexual assault in Singapore. Out of these 6,988 cases, 1,368 led to prosecution, resulting in only 931 criminal convictions. Out of the 1,368 who authorities charged, 1,364 had prior sexual assault convictions.
Minister Shanmugam, a former lawyer and Singaporean politician, discussed flaws within the nation’s system. He admits that “The government does not track the use of alcohol, drugs or prevalence and diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in relation to sexual assault offenders.”
In September 2020, Minister Shanmugam announced an evaluation of women’s issues in Singapore, led by three female political officeholders. The convention subsequently occurred in October 2020. Officials discussed handling sexual offenses, potential increases of penalties, criminalization of conduct and factors authorities should consider when assigning sentences.
Shanmugam opens up about the country’s societal views. He states, “I think a whole society mindset change is necessary. The government has got to lead it with the right pieces of legislation.” He adds, “We need men to be part of the mindset shift — to embrace the changing aspirations of younger women as equal economic partners and facilitate their success in the workplace by sharing in household and caregiving responsibilities.”
With the ongoing issue of victimization, Shanmugam reflects, “We need to try and deal with that — how we encourage, so people report. And, once the report is done, taking action thereafter is easier.”
AWARE Improving Lives
AWARE is one of the many NGOs working on improving the lives of women in Singapore. Its vision is to create a society where there is true gender equality. In this community, people would see both men and women as individuals with the right to make responsible and informed decisions for their lives. AWARE’s mission is to remove all gender-based barriers through its research, advocacy, education, training and support services.
AWARE launched the Sexual Assault Care Centre in 2014 to support survivors of sexual assault. Throughout 2017, the Sexual Assault Centre saw a 57% increase in cases. The NGO also created a Women’s Care Centre, a helpline that provides information and support for Singaporean women in distress. In 2018, the Women’s Care Centre saw 32% more helpline calls and 48% more counseling clients. Furthermore, AWARE has collaborated with police in developing a new training video to help supplement police officers’ understanding of the behavior and feelings of victims and how police and responders impact these victims.
Bringing awareness to the hardships women in Singapore face is crucial. However, with the help of AWARE and Minister Shanmugam, steps are being taken to safeguard the well-being of women.
– Alexis Jones