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The Political Role of Women in Singapore and the Philippines

The Political Role of Women in Singapore and the Philippines

Introduction

The political role is the expected behavior according to the political status of a group, institution, or individual. For example, political status of the elite is defined by their rights and obligations to society; it entitles the right to take the most important political decisions but also burdens with responsibility for made decisions. Social status is connected to individual’s rights and freedoms: the right to elect and be elected, the right to freely express personal views and defend their rights in court, and other ones. It is obvious that the roles and functions performed are unequal. In many countries, especially Arab and Asian ones, women are treated in a special way concerning their role in the political life. Singapore and the Philippines are two of the most vivid examples of overcoming gender issues in Asia. The objectives of the paper are to analyze the political role of women in Singapore and the Philippines, compare them, and demonstrate the most successful women and their political influence.

Women in the Politics

In addition to the economic and social inequality between females and males, there is a political one in terms of participation in the government. The process, in which the political inequality is likely perpetuated forming different political strata, is called the political stratification (Hicks, Hicks & Maldonado, 2016, p. 47). At the turn of XX-XXI centuries, women began to play a more important role in the political life. It is the evidence of further emancipation of women. They are a rare phenomenon in politics in most countries. Society hardly changes opinion about the view that politics is the sphere of the strong. People are convinced that women’s interest in politics is non-existent and that there are universal values to defend. On the international arena, a major step in achieving the goals of equality for women was made on December 18, 1979, when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (Iwanaga, 2008, p. 36). The General Assembly legally improved the role of women worldwide when in 2011 it adopted the resolution on democratization and participation of women in political life. The document states that women participate in political decision-making having equal rights with men on all levels to achieve global equality, sustainable development, peace, and democracy.

Despite the existence of such regulations and flexibility of the outlined objectives, legal base remains unknown to many women. Progress is rather slow in increasing the number of female representative. The average rate is one woman per five parliamentarians (Hicks et al., 2016, p. 59). Women also insufficiently represent local decision-making bodies.

Women in Singaporean Political Life

Singapore demonstrated not only economic miracle but also advanced democratization. Initially, women did not play the key role in state’s political life. However, the modern trends worldwide caused the increase in the number of women participating in public life and running for political offices. Democratization processes affected all spheres of political life, including the role of women. The major indicator of Singapore’s level of democratization was universal suffrage for both women and men in order for women not to strive to achieve it as it happened in other countries. One more characteristic feature of the country is that Singapore is uniting English-educated and Chinese-educated people. There were representatives from both of these groups in various political institutions, such as Legislative Council or self-governing Assembly. Lee Kwan Yew’s policy to improve the rights of Chinese population led to 8-50% increase in the number of women voting in the elections in 1955 (Mauzy & Milne, 2002, p. 35).

Women could participate in the political life of Singapore through parties and institutions. The self-governing Assembly achieved success with the People’s Action Party (PAP) rising to power; it provided women with opportunities to gain political importance. Two of PAP members who joined the self-governing Assembly, Chan Choy Siong and Ho Puay Choo, founded the Women League (Mauzy & Milne, 2002, p. 71). Nevertheless, there were women like Linda Chen Mock Hock who did not become a member of PAP because her communist views were not accepted by administration that held the opposite ones. In the late 70s, female representatives lost the political fight to radical politicians, and from 1970 to 1984, there were no women in Singaporean political life (Mauzy & Milne, 2002, p. 93). However, Dr. Dixie Tan, Dr. Aline Wong, Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, and Dr. Seet Ai Mee were appointed by PAP between 1984 and 1988, and later they all became very successful in the parliament acquiring ministerial offices (Mauzy & Milne, 2002, p. 71). The most recent changes in the female part of Singapore’s government were not very positive for the country. Lim Hwee Hua lost her position in 2011, and her place the parliament consequently went to another party during the elections. The current state of women in politics issue is stable and even slightly improved. There are women on higher governmental positions, but Singapore seems to do nothing to provide women withmore opportunities for the professional political development.

Singapore’s female nominated Members of Parliament were representatives of various social groups and movements, and several were ministers. Those were Seet Ai Mee (Acting Minister for Community Development), Lim Hwee Hua (Prime Minister), and Yu-Fu Yee Shoon (Minister for State) (Kotwani, 2015). Additionally, there was a female politician, Amy Khor Lean Suan, who held the office of district mayor.

The newly elected Minister for Culture, Community, and Youth, Grace Fu, is currently the most important woman on Singapore’s political arena. She worked as an auditor, expert in business development, held the position of Assistant Director of Finance, financial controller, and was Chief Executive Officer and Vice-President of Marketing in large corporations (“Ms Grace FU Hai Yien,” 2015). Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, introduced Grace Fu in 2006 as People’s Action Party candidate. As a result, Grace Fu became a Member of the Parliament. The next stage in her political career was the position of Minister of State for the Ministry of National Development and then Senior Minister of State. Grace Fu actually became the Minister only in 2012, and she come to be the second woman holding that position in the history of Singapore (“Ms Grace FU Hai Yien,” 2015).

Women in the Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines demonstrated different trends in women’s participation in the political life. In general, the number of female politicians is increasing at the local and national levels. Such tendency stems from the adoption of various legal frameworks that regulate and protect women in politics in the Philippines. The examples are the following: the Local Government Code of 1991, the Women in Nation Building Law, the Gender and Development Budget (GAD), the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law, the Philippine Plan for Gender Responsive Development (1995-2025), and the Philippine Plan for Women including the Framework Plan for Women (FPW) (Agustin, 1987, p. 117).

Another important aspect is that women in the Philippines can hold special governmental and diplomatic offices. In 2013, 138 diplomats were female citizens of the Republic of the Philippines. Among them, there were 37 chiefs of missions also known as ambassadors, 21 minister-counsellors, and 80 Foreign Service officers (Philippine Commission on Women, 2013). Moreover, the women who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy can hold military offices as well. The current state of affairs is comparatively good as there are many women working in the parliament and for the government. Women are active in propagating and improving their rights of being involved in the political life of the Philippines.

The most prominent achievement of women in Philippine politics was election of Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Presidents of the Philippines (Agustin, 1987, p. 115). The former was the President of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992. Corazon Aquino was one of the opposition leaders after her husband’s death who was a famous politician. She became a candidate in the presidential elections, which took place in February 1986. The characteristic features of the presidential campaign were violence and murder by the authorities that resulted in the victory of the current President Marcos (McKittrick, 2009).

Corazon Aquino’s coming to power became a symbol of democratic reforms. Aquino was named “Woman of the Year” by the Time magazine and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (McKittrick, 2009). Aquino’s team adopted the new constitution of the Philippines and introduced legislative reforms in many sectors, including agriculture. She also achieved the withdrawal of US military presence. After the presidential term, she participated in the revolution of 2001 and received several prizes: William Fulbright award in 1996, the Time magazine award, and a title among 65 Asian heroes (McKittrick, 2009). Therefore, the example of Corazon Aquino is important as she held presidency, achieved massive support from her country, made major steps towards democratization, and won attention of the world leaders.

Comparison of Women’s Political Role in Singapore and the Philippines

First, it is important to contrast the countries and the conditions they create for women’s personal and professional development. The Philippines and Singapore have some common features that influence the role of a woman on political arena. Both are Asian countries where women and men were historically treated unequally due to patriarchic societies. There is a positive correlation between the level of state’s development and women’s freedom of action; Singapore has higher level of economic development than the Philippines.

The important aspect of both countries was the democratization that also presupposes gender equality. In the Philippines, a new constitution that included provisions about women rights was adopted in 1987. The Philippines once again became a presidential republic, in which the head of state acted as the head of the government at the same time. In 1988, supporters of Corazon Aquino (a woman president) started a fight for Philippine democracy. Similarly, in Singapore, thhe constitution guarantees women equal political rights. Nevertheless, the percentage of women represented in government is not proportional to the female population of the country. Of the 84 members of parliament, there are only 24 female deputies (24.47%) (Kotwani, 2015).

The difference lies in overall attitude to women. Despite women constituting 42% of the Singapore workforce, they occupy mostly low-paid positions (Kotwani, 2015). The total amount of wages of women is only 75% of the total fees earned by the male population (60% ten years ago) (Kotwani, 2015). In contrast, the Filipino women have wider specter of positons and wages they can occupy. While Singapore is highly urbanized, in the Philippines, agriculture plays an important role, and much of rural population adheres to the traditional patriarchal way of life with its characteristic gender inequality. In the cities, especially in Manila, there is emancipation. The growth of the role of women contributed to women becoming powerful presidents.

Another difference is the legal base stipulating woman rights. Currently, there is no evidence that women are subjected to violence in Singapore or the Philippines. Nevertheless, some aspects of discrimination against women in Singapore still exist. For example, citizenship is not guaranteed to children born to the citizens of Singapore abroad. Women in Singapore have received suffrage in 1947; however, it happened before Singapore became independent. To compare with the Philippines, women received the right to vote in 1937. In the elections of the Parliament in May 2004, the proportion of women in the lower house of Parliament was 15.3% (36 seats out of 236), and in the upper house the proportion was 16.7% in the elections in May 2004 (4 out of 24 seats). In Singapore, the main legal document for women called Women’s Charter of 1961 gave women a number of rights: the right of private property, the right of the trade, and the right to divorce (Kotwani, 2015). However, that is not enough to gain full power and equality in working conditions. Surely, there are organizations involved in the protection of women’s rights in Singapore, such as the Association of Women for Action and Research or the Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations (Wong & Leong, 1993, p. 44). That is also improvement in engaging women in strengthening their position in society.

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The similarities in the roles of women in political life in both countries are the following: women are underrepresented and constitute only a minor part of governmental offices (Hicks et al., 2016, p. 50). However, in the Philippines, women could have the highest governmental position, and two female politicians became the Presidents. The labor unions of women are widespread there as well as participation in military. On the other hand, in Singapore, only two women managed to become Ministers, and the Parliament did not have a woman as a member only for a year. Additionally, the Philippine women are legally protected, namely their political activities and participation. There are numerous legal acts and provisions designed specifically for female politicians. One more thing that both countries cannot overcome is when a majority of women play their role in politics only as diplomats’ wives. Interestingly, in the Philippines, there are more than 100 female diplomats, and that is a major accomplishment as the world practice hardly appoints women for those positions. The situation is not the same in Singapore as they are more likely to appoint men for similar offices.

Statistics support the results of comparison: women play more important role in politics in the Philippines than in Singapore. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, the index of Singapore was 0.7046, and of the Philippines, it was 0.7814 (Hausmann, Tyson, Bekhouche, & Zahidi, n.d.). The index covered economic participation and opportunity, education, political empowerment, health and survival. The higher the rate, the better the role of women is; therefor, the situation is better in the Republic of the Philippines.

Conclusion

In conclusion, both, in the Philippines and Singapore, the share of women in the government and in the society are not equal. Both countries have legal ground to regulate women in politics additionally to the UN-adopted ones. However, the Philippine base is more elaborate. Both countries experienced the processes of democratization that include gender equality aspect. Nevertheless, statistical data and Global Gender Gap Report demonstrated the advantage of the Philippines comparing to Singapore. Even throughout the history, there were no women appointed to the higher positions than ministers. On the other hand, the Philippines had two female Presidents. Additionally, the Philippine women have a wider number of opportunities and positions than Singaporean. However, both the Philippines and Singapore advanced in providing chance for women to play an important role in political life comparing to the rest of Asian countries. There is hope that the share of woman in politics will grow because there are all preconditions for it (not radical, democratic, rapidly developing, industrialized, or other.) The trends are moving towards providing modern more rights and politically empowering women.

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