Tuesday 8 March 2016

More women ministers possible, says Grace Fu

Singapore's first woman minister with her own portfolio says there are 'quite a few good, talented' candidates
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 May 2016

Singapore's first woman minister with her own portfolio is confident that more of her female colleagues will join her in the Cabinet in the near future.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, 51, said she sees "quite a few good candidates", in an interview ahead of International Women's Day tomorrow.

"I see quite a few good candidates. They are young, they are good, they are talented, they are effective - I don't see why they cannot be ministers."

But she would not be drawn to identify them or even say whether they are in the current crop of senior ministers of state.

"I wouldn't want to speculate, but you can see that there are quite a few of them," she said.

The women officeholders include three senior ministers of state who are seen as members of the fourth- generation leadership team: Ms Indranee Rajah, Mrs Josephine Teo and Ms Sim Ann.

Each holds two portfolios. Ms Indranee's are Law and Finance; Mrs Teo, Foreign Affairs and Transport; and Ms Sim, Community, Culture and Youth as well as Finance.

In her first interview with local newspapers since she took office six months ago, Ms Fu also dwelt on plans for the sports and arts sectors.

Her No. 1 priority, however, is to deepen Singaporeans' national pride and nurture a caring society.

Ironically, pride in her political achievement, as Singapore's first woman minister with her own portfolio, hardly entered her consciousness initially.

With a wry smile, she said she did not see what the fuss was all about at first. But when strangers told her she was an inspiration to their daughters, she realised that she was part of a line of women in politics who pushed the envelope.

Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, she pointed out, was Singapore's first woman full minister when she was promoted in 2009 to be Second Minister for Finance and Transport. Mrs Lim, however, left politics after she was defeated in Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election.

"What I am doing is really pushing the boundary a little. Mrs Lim was the first Cabinet minister, I pushed that to be the first minister to helm a ministry," Ms Fu said.

"Madam Halimah Yacob is the first Speaker of Parliament. And now, I am the first woman Leader of the House. We are just pushing that boundary for women... I am glad to be part of that movement to push the boundary for women." Ms Fu, who was appointed Leader of the House last September, is responsible for arranging government business and Parliament's legislative programme.

But will Singapore have a woman prime minister one day? She said without hesitation: "Why not?"

But she does not seem to see it happening soon, and declines to speculate on when it may happen.

"It should be something that is natural. It cannot be orchestrated," she said.

She was also circumspect about criticism from some quarters on the slow progress of women in politics in Singapore.

"It is not affirmative action. We don't believe in the quota system," she said.

But she believes that women face obstacles in reaching their full potential. These include expectations of a woman's role at home, being overlooked for promotions at work and being penalised for taking time off work to look after young children.

Ms Fu, a mother of three sons who turn 24, 22 and 19 this year, attributed her own success to the support of her husband and parents.

Her bosses gave her big breaks, too, said the former chief executive of PSA International (South-east Asia and Japan) at PSA Corp, which manages Singapore's ports.

But in the push for progress, people need to bear in mind, she said, that gender equality does not mean equal numbers at the workplace or in Parliament.

Like other countries, women in Singapore will dominate some sectors, such as childcare and nursing, while men do so in sectors like the uniformed forces, she said.

But when it comes to politics, she wants the gap narrowed: "We hope to see more women. But it has to take time. We cannot rush this."

Mission: To build a national identity
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 May 2016

Being a Singaporean is more than just about knowing and enjoying food.

Being a Singaporean is to respect other races and religions, to care for others, and to understand the history and culture of Singapore.

Striving for this national identity is a mission of Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who mapped out the journey towards it at a media conference last Wednesday.

One of the first steps in getting there is to move beyond the usual discussions of the best eats in town, and talk more about Singapore's culture and heritage, she said.

People should ask one another: "Have you seen our artists' work in the National Gallery? Have you seen our disabled athletes perform on the world stage?

"Have you seen our performers put up a great cultural show of our unique brand of local music?"

This new approach is an uphill task, and Ms Fu wants the change to start at a young age.

More schools will be encouraged to take their students on field trips to the National Gallery and other art institutions, she said, adding that the relevant agencies are working out the plans for it.

The students' museum trips also need to be more meaningful, with explanations of the artefacts and artwork presented in simpler ways for the young to understand and relate to.

"If we can educate Singaporeans more about our history, culture and heritage, our understanding of who we are as a people will deepen.

"And if Singaporeans can better understand themselves as a people, their pride in being Singaporean will increase over time," she said.

In the two-hour interview, Ms Fu also set out another broad goal: To build a caring society in Singapore.

Traditional faultlines between racial groups and religious communities still exist, she said.

But new divides have emerged in today's society, including those between the rich and the poor, foreigners and locals, and conservatives and liberals.

"These are divides that we are watching quite carefully. Any of these can cause tensions in society," said Ms Fu.

Part of her job will be to find ways to bring together people from the different races, values and communities.

One way is to encourage volunteerism in the corporate world, she said.

Her ministry will look at how it can support companies that organise volunteering programmes to serve the community, she added.

Students already volunteer under school programmes, but more can be done to encourage young working adults to spend their time helping the less fortunate.

Another way involves getting Singaporeans to rely less on the Government to fix their problems, and get themselves to step up more often.

Ms Fu said: "If I have an idea of what to do, how about rallying my friends to participate in it? If I think that more can be done to educate cyclists on road etiquette, how about I lead a cyclist group to do something about it?" she said.

This requires Singaporeans to move beyond seeing the Government as the leader, and themselves as the followers, said Ms Fu.

"We need to have a a model where citizens feel that they can get together and participate in the decision-making," she said.

Her ministry and agencies will do their part to widen the pool of people who participate in government-organised dialogues, she said.

"We want to avoid preaching to the converted. We want to reach out to new groups that are not so familiar with our processes."

Ms Fu acknowledged that the journey towards nation-building was not easy, and would take time.

"It is not going to be something to be done over five years. It took us 50 years to reach where we are today," she said.

There would also be no tangible indicators of success, such as museum attendance figures.

But, she said: "If I am able to make Singaporeans feel more strongly and better about themselves as a people and about Singapore as a country, then I would have succeeded as a minister."

More space for arts, sports communities
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 May 2016

The space crunch that dogs the arts and sports communities is being tackled, with the Government intent on opening up existing facilities and space for them to train, rehearse or perform.

For instance, the public underpass leading to the Esplanade could be a space that arts groups can use, as is done at France's Centquatre public cultural centre, suggested Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.

The cultural centre in Paris is an open area where arts groups can rehearse without a booking, as long as they do not disturb each other.

Similarly, Ms Fu wants more schools to let sports enthusiasts use their facilities outside school hours, and is working with the Education Ministry to achieve this.

"Some schools have come on board. We think more can actually come on board and because there are a few schools in every constituency, facilities can be easily accessed," she said last Wednesday in an interview on her first six months helming the ministry, which also oversees sport.

Some such bookings of school facilities are already being made under the national ActiveSG programme, which encourages more Singaporeans to take up sports.

The space problem is not easy to solve, Ms Fu noted, but the upside is hard to ignore. It will encourage more people to take part in sports, which, in turn, will help them to lead healthy lives, she said.

What of the new billion-dollar Sports Hub, a major investment by the Government that has come under fire for its high rents?

Ms Fu sees a smoother road ahead for the facility, whose centrepiece is the 55,000-seat National Stadium. The reason for her optimism: The operators, having run the place since 2014, should now have a better grasp of how to keep costs down.

Ms Fu said: "They have some good reasons as to why they need to go through a learning period. But with the passage of time, we expect them to do better."

The negotiations on how many days the stadium will be booked for National Day Parade rehearsals were completed only recently.

Ms Fu also said that the Sports Hub, like other sports and arts facilities, has a role to play in developing Singapore's national identity and providing opportunities for volunteerism.

"It has multiple social objectives, and it must pull its weight meeting these objectives," she said.

No comments:

Post a Comment