Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at Her World Woman of the Year 2023 Award Ceremony and Dinner on 13 October 2023
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very good evening to all, and thank you for having me.
2 Let me start by saying it is always a good time to celebrate women – to recognise our contributions and honour our achievements, to raise those who have made a mark in their fields and positively impacted our society and nation, and those who have pushed the boundaries in their respective domains, that it might provide a bigger and better space for successive generations of women to operate and thrive in.
3 And I should add, it is important to celebrate women – to provide a tangible record of women’s representation and the successes we can achieve, to inspire other women to lean in and strive for excellence in their chosen fields, to highlight role models that girls and young women can look up to and learn from, and to challenge stereotypes and shift mindsets among the current and future generations, lighting the way to a fairer and more inclusive society.
4 So, let me first thank Her World for your sustained efforts in championing and celebrating women in Singapore, not least through the Woman of the Year and Young Woman Achiever awards.
WOMEN CAN BE ANYTHING
5 And there is much cause for celebration. Singapore women, past and present, have contributed significantly to our nation’s development. Whether it be in the workplace, where women were pioneers in the social domain in the early 20th century, and as time passed, in many more fields and professions, or at home where many sacrifice their careers, their strengths, their sleep, and dedicate their energies and time to raise the children and take care of the household.
6 Over the years, we have made strides in women’s representation across all domains – be it sports, arts, media, business, finance, sustainability, politics – allowing women to pursue their aspirations and achieve great heights. The ‘Barbie’ movie that came out earlier this year sparked much interest on the modernisation of the female, and male (not forgetting Ken) stereotype “in the real world”. While I have not watched the movie, it was hard to miss the marketing and social media trends surrounding it. One of the viral trends was the ‘Barbie Selfie Generator’, which allowed fans to put themselves in a movie poster backdrop and add their own tagline saying: “This Barbie is ____ (underline)”. Apart from the memes and trend-jacking by brands, this brought to life Barbie’s iconic slogan that “You [Women] Can Be Anything”. This remains a relevant message, one that seeks to empower women and girls around the world to free themselves from the figurative box of gender stereotypes and actively pursue their dreams.
7 In Singapore, this changing of persistent and unhelpful mindsets around gender stereotypes remains a conscious and ongoing effort, even as we have seen some positive movement over the years. Anecdotally, I have benefited from Singapore’s early policy and legislative changes that removed many overt obstacles of women’s development, enabling me to pursue more opportunities in my lifetime than my mother and grandmother could. But we recognise that fundamental mindset shifts and the forging of new societal norms are needed to make the next bound of progress. This is one of five main areas in our White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development published last year. With strong partnerships and collective action, I am confident that we, as a society, will be able to create a better environment in which to support the diverse aspirations of, and challenges faced by, Singapore women at different life-stages.
WINNERS IN STEM
8 This brings me to this year’s winners of Her World Woman of The Year and Young Woman Achiever awards. First, my heartiest congratulations to the both of them! And while they have not been formally introduced yet, it is wonderful to see that these ladies made their marks in traditionally male-dominated sectors. I have some personal experience working in male-dominated sectors. Before the 16 years in politics, I was the CFO and CEO of PSA, and for a period of time, I was the only female minister. This is a great testament to the progress on women’s development in Singapore, not discounting of course their hard work and perseverance in getting to where they are now. Every woman here will know that we work hard to get to where we are.
9 Women’s representation in such sectors, such as STEM (or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), is something that has seen steady progress over the years, with more women entering the sector and many – such as the winners – becoming leaders in their chosen fields. But more can be done. In 2020, women made up 32% of employed residents in STEM occupations, compared to 49% in other occupations. And only 55% of women graduating with STEM degrees or diplomas enter related careers, compared to 70% of men.
10 To spur greater women’s representation in STEM, the Government has formed industry partnerships such as SG Women in Tech and SG Cyber Women, to encourage more women to explore the infocomm, tech, and cybersecurity industries. And of course, I hope that the two winners, along with many other prominent and successful female STEM professionals, can serve as an inspiration to young women and girls in Singapore to consider education and career opportunities in STEM.
PUBLIC GARDEN TO CELEBRATE WOMEN
11 Allow me to conclude where I began – on celebrating women. At the closing session of our Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development in 2021, PM Lee announced that we will dedicate a public garden to honour and celebrate the pioneering spirit and contributions of Singapore women. The garden will be located at Dhoby Ghaut Green, right in the heart of the city, in front of The Istana. This is symbolically apt, in recognition of the central role of women in Singapore’s past, present, and future. I, for one, am excited to see the garden take shape; and can only imagine the richness and diversity of the stories, contributions, and achievements of Singapore women that will be contained within.
12 Let us all continue to celebrate Singapore women, and work together to enable and empower them to reach even greater heights.
13 Thank you once again for having me. And I wish all a wonderful evening.