Economic Pragmatism and the ‘Schooling’ of Girls in Singapore, pp. 4 of 21

Mixed Messages: Contradictions in Re-defining Women’s Roles, 1950s-1970s

The PAP’s support for women’s rights was both politically and economically motivated. By the second half of the 1950s, there was increasing consciousness of the emerging social and political forces that women represented. The automatic registration of voters, introduction of compulsory voting and the 1957 citizenship ordinance had enfranchised a significantly enlarged electorate (Yeo & Lau, 1991, p. 139). Women formed half of this electorate, thus making their support critical for the 1959 Legislative Assembly elections for a self-governing state. This was highlighted by the press which pointed out that as the sex ratio was about 50:50, the female electorate held 50 per cent of the political power in Singapore (“Women hold half the power,” Straits Times, 1959, 3 January). Undoubtedly the PAP saw the relevance of winning women’s votes as evidenced in the speech by Kwa Geok Choo, wife of Lee Kuan Yew exhorting women to vote for the PAP in the 1959 elections (cited in Lee, 1998, p. 325):

Our society is still built on the assumption that women are the social, political and economic inferiors of men. This myth has been made the excuse for the exploitation of female labour..… Let us show them (the other parties) that Singapore women are tired of their pantomime and buffoonery. I appeal to women to vote for PAP. It is the only party with the idealism, the honesty and ability to carry out its election programme.

The economic underpinnings of PAP’s support for women are also obvious. In his memoirs, Lee Kuan Yew recalled the party’s early support for women (Lee, 1998, p. 325):

… we shared the view of the communists that one reason for the backwardness of China and the rest of Asia, except Japan, was that women had not been emancipated. They had to be put on a par with the men, given the same education and enabled to make their full contribution to 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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