Interview with Singapore Committee for UN Women

IRSG: March is the month of the International Women’s Day, tells us about the theme for this year and the relevance of this event?

Georgette Tan: This year, the theme for IWD2019 is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change” and we want to call attention to the importance of implementing new solutions and integrated approaches to remove existing barriers.

By thinking equal, we must incorporate a gender perspective to our thought processes and decision making procedures. This needs to be accompanied by a fundamental shift in our attitudes and mindset – be it in the way we review business and societal policies, in the values we teach in our children or in the ways women even think about what they can achieve.

Build Smart focuses on how we can think out of the box and ride on the digital transformation wave to unlock the extensive benefits when we do achieve a gender-equal future. In line with our Smart Nation initiatives, we can also ensure that we are not just working smart but also with a heart, when we successfully develop more-inclusive policies or build smart innovations that serve to empower women and girls.

And in order to pave the path to a better world, innovate for change refers to how women’s fresh and relevant thinking can bring change in our technologies, policies and even way of life. I also want to point out that women and girls are not simply going to be on the receiving end of these innovations, but can also take their place as innovators.

As we are moving into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme for International Women’s Day is ever so relevant because we need to leverage on digital technologies to transform the way women earn money, manage their health and welfare. By helping to make the most of their potential, we can reach greater heights in women’s economic empowerment and truly accelerate towards gender equality.

IRSG: UN Women is a leading organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. Can you elaborate on the mission and goals of the organisation and its structure?

Georgette Tan: Globally, UN Women acts as a global champion for women and girls. We work towards making the vision of Sustainable Development Goals a reality for women and goals by standing behind women’s equal participation in all aspects of life. We focus on governance systems, the income security, decent work and economic autonomy, contribution and greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience, and allowing women and girls all around to have a life free from all forms of violence.

To do this, we use seven aspects to achieve our goals, like flagship programmme initiatives, innovation and technology, intergovernmental support, UN system coordination, gender parity in the United Nations, training for gender equality and women’s empowerment, and finally research and data.

IRSG: UN Women Singapore Committee brings forward various activities to promote gender equality in Singapore and in South-East Asian Countries, what’s the impact of these activities in the local communities?

Georgette Tan: In Singapore, we support the global mission by raising awareness and funding for programmes in three key focus areas – Ending Violence against Women, Economic Empowerment and Governance and Leadership. This sees us empowering the community to take preventative action against violence targeted at women, highlighting the current disparity and bridging the gender gap, and finally rallying organisations and individuals to support the gender equality movement through everyday actions.

In Singapore, our Girls2Pioneers program in Singapore inspires and encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM fields through day camps, school talks and field trips – to nurture them into the entrepreneurs, inventors and leaders that they are meant to be. In 2018 alone, we reached 4392 girls through and encouraged them to explore and consider careers within STEM fields. In the long run, we hope that these programs can help to change the gender imbalance in STEM fields where women are historically underrepresented.

IRSG: UN Women Singapore Committee and IRSG has partnered to celebrate the positive role of women in the rubber economy.  The Committee has supported the IRSG’s Photo Competition “ Women for Rubber” and will participate actively at the World Rubber Summit 2019 to be held in Singapore on the 18th-19th March. What’s the importance of this collaboration and how it could be developed in the future?

Georgette Tan: This collaboration pays tribute to women’s contributions in the rubber industry throughout the rubber chain – from the nurturing, harvesting, processing, trading and manufacturing. At the moment, women producers and entrepreneurs are largely invisible in global value chain and in the corporate supply chain for rubber, and we hope that we can help to raise the visibility of women in the global rubber trade.

In the future, we want to continue being part of the IRSG’s meaningful work and influence the implementation of strategies that allow women to be exposed to more opportunities in the global value chain and be empowered economically.

IRSG: The rubber sector, as many other commodities related industries, is largely dominated by men.  Over the years we have seen some positive changes with the active role of women in the rubber value chain becoming more and more obvious. What actions could be put in place to make this industry more attractive for women?

Georgette Tan: I think companies must first realise that there is a wide combination of factors which work simultaneously to influence gendered practices in the industry. It is under the confluence of these social, economic, demographic and political factors, that existing gendered labour division continues to persist in commodities-related industries.

We need to see a fundamental shift in the social stereotypes or codes, and a first step can be taken in to ease women into participating in the rubber value chain. This could come in the form of access to childcare and legal measures that ease the burden of domestic duties, such as flexible working hours or encouraging the males to take up greater responsibility in helping out with household duties.

Supportive institutions like labour unions will then play a critical role in addressing socio-cultural concerns and positioning women rubber workers as emerging key economic players and contributors to the household. This can help to drive a multiplier effect that builds and sustains women’s participation and contributions in the rubber trade. As women rubber workers assume greater roles in their work, they should also be given access to training programs that help them to develop in their careers. In the long run, the growth of the rubber industry should also allow for the creation of more jobs that women can take up.

To effectively make the industry more attractive for women, we have to work with these interlinked and entangled factors, and be cognizant of the impacts that proposed changes would bring.

Author of the Blog:

Mrs. Georgette Tan, President, Singapore Committee for UN Women

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