Women in Singapore politics

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Traditionally, women in Singapore played a small role in the country's political scene public life. In recent years, however, the city-state has seen an increase in female representation in public life, as more women chose to run for political office.

Notable female politicians include the two former ministers: former Acting Minister for Community Development Seet Ai Mee and former Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Hwee Hua; Minister of State Yu-Fu Yee Shoon; and Amy Khor Lean Suan, a district mayor. Several women also became Nominated Members of Parliament, representing a range of societal interests such as women's groups and conservation groups. On 1 October 2015, Grace Fu was appointed the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. She currently holds this portfolio.

Early years[edit]

Unlike other countries, like the United Kingdom and the United States, Singapore practiced universal suffrage since democratic elections began. Thus, women in Singapore did not have to fight for suffrage.

The first women representatives in the Legislative Council reflected English-educated and middle-class interests. Chinese-educated women leaders came into prominence as the proportion of women voters expanded from 8% to 50% in the 1955 elections. However, some of these Chinese-educated leaders, such as Linda Chen Mock Hock, were linked to communism and thus were subsequently clamped down on by the fiercely anti-communist Lim Yew Hock administration.

As the People's Action Party rose to power in 1959, as many as four female PAP candidates were voted into the self-governing Assembly. They included Women League’s founders Chan Choy Siong and Ho Puay Choo. The PAP-Barisan Sosialis schism caused two women members to defect to the Barisan Sosialis. The two remaining (and after 1968, one remaining) PAP woman members were considered moderate and relatively passive compared to the radicals, perhaps leaving a legacy of a weakened female representation and, subsequently, its complete lack in politics for more than a decade.

Absence of female representation[edit]

With the retirement of Chan Choy Siong in 1970, there were no women in parliament for 14 years from 1970 to 1984. Nonetheless, there were sporadic failed electoral bids by female opposition candidates.

Return of female representation[edit]

In 1984, the dominant PAP fielded 3 women candidates who all entered parliament successfully. They were Dr. Dixie Tan, Dr. Aline Wong, and then Minister of State Yu-Foo Yee Shoon. Another woman, Dr. Seet Ai Mee, joined the trio in 1988, and she subsequently was promoted to Acting Minister for Community Development. Widely expected to be promoted to full minister after the 1991 General Election, Seet lost her seat in Parliament to Singapore Democratic Party’s Ling How Doong in election. Lim Hwee Hua eventually became the first female Cabinet minister in 2009 when she was appointed Minister in the Prime Minister's Office. However, she lost her parliamentary seat to the Workers Party team in Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election.

The ruling PAP Women's Wing was formed in 1989. In 1992, Dr. Kanwaljit Soin became the first female Nominated Member of Parliament and played a major role in raising important social issues, such as violence against women, in the parliament. Other notable NMPs include Claire Chiang and Braema Mathiaparanam.

Current women parliamentarians[edit]

Since the 1990s, the number of women participating in politics has progressively increased, but women remain significantly underrepresented in government and parliament. There are currently 20 elected women parliamentarians out of a total of 88 elected members, 19 from the ruling PAP and one from the Workers' Party. There are two full Ministers, three Ministers of State and two district mayors. There are three women of a total of nine Nominated Members of Parliament.

Elected MPs[edit]

The Elected Members are from PAP unless, otherwise stated:

Women in opposition[edit]

In 2003, Sylvia Lim, a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic, became the first female Chairman of the Workers' Party. She became the first female elected MP not from the PAP.