Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore, pp. 14 of 21

This policy seemed to reflect a more progressive gender ideology amongst government officials. However, this was not the case. Goh Chok Tong, the new Prime Minister asserted in 1993 that “it is not possible, nor is it wise to have total sex equality in all areas” (Goh, 1993). In his speech, he reiterated the official stance that Singapore society should retain its patriarchal structure where “minor areas where women are not accorded the same treatment should be expected so long as the welfare of women and of the family is protected” (Goh, 1993).

One major area of differential treatment that Prime Minister Goh was referring to was the issue of female civil service officers’ medical benefits. While male officers had medical benefits extended to their spouses and dependent children, the same treatment was not given to female officers. The finance Minister defended the policy on the “principle that in our Asian society the husband is the head of the household. It is his responsibility to look after the family’s needs, including their medical needs” (Parliamentary Debates, 61, 1993, November 11, cols 1012–1013). This defence was reinforced in 1994 by Prime Minister Goh’s National Day Rally speech (Goh, 1994) in which he further elaborated on Singapore’s need to maintain a patriarchal society:

Asian society has always held the man responsible for the child he has fathered. He is the primary provider, not his wife… I am not saying that woman is inferior to man and must play a subservient role. I believe women should have equal opportunities and men should help out at home, looking after babies, cleaning the house and washing dishes. But we must hold the man responsible for the child he has fathered, otherwise we will change for the worse a very basic sanction of Asian society.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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