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Women Leaders Network, Beijing, China, 2001

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Highlights of Dr Anamah Tan's views on women's issues in her Speeches

1. Expanding Choices for Women

This paper looks at how the women's movement in Singapore contributed towards the integration of women in the work force. The topic of working women is usually viewed from the economic and the labour (relating to work conditions, equal salary and other benefits) angle. Of late, this topic is discussed in relation to gender laws. While economic, labour and gender laws are important issues which should not be ignored, it is timely to see how the women's movement, which started in the States in the late sixties, affected Singapore, and how our tiny Republic responded.

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2. Leadership Focus in the New Millennium for Women's Organisations

A new millennium is supposed to be a time for hope, for new beginnings and new opportunities. Standing at the threshold of the new millennium, however, we see the world still beset with grave problems like poverty, violence, the violation of human rights, ignorance, illiteracy and diseases. These are weighty global issues that had retarded the advancement of humanity. Although these issues concern each one of us, they particularly affect women, regardless of their religions, cultures or nationalities.

This millennium is ours to construct. We should therefore strife to fully operationalise the Platforms and the Plans of Action that were endorsed by international and regional bodies to make a difference. We should work towards a world where gender equality, development and peace is a way of life.

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3. Women Entrepreneurs and World Markets

At present, there is a great deal of interest from all quarters on the topic of entrepreneurship. In our present turbulent world of corporate restructuring, rightsizing, downsizing, and even capsizing, mergers and acquisitions, and technological change, notions of traditional careers have been severely challenged.

Women today are in an environment that supports entrepreneurship. Many women possess skills and opportunities that enable them to try their hands at entrepreneurship. Women entrepreneurs have been growing in numbers and the rate of this growth is accelerating. In time to come, women entrepreneurs will be able form structures and frameworks, as well as forge alliances, to support other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

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4. Gender Equality at the Workplace: A Profitable Brand

The crux of this forum is effective branding. Let me introduce, or perhaps, reintroduce, a different branding strategy that can boost bottomlines. I am talking
about positioning an organisation's equal opportunities for women as a brand in itself. The idea is not soft currency. It is a branding alternative that makes economic sense: it can sell more, it can increase profit margins.  

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5. The Role of Women NGOs in the International Arena

Doing our part on the global front still requires us to use as our basic tool, i.e. our expertise and direct experience or input from the ground. Our role in the international arena is one that should spur or complement state efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals pertinent to women and girls. We do this by acting as monitoring agents and gap-fillers to address the urgent needs of women when the state is unable to help yet. And of course, we are advocates for the human rights of our gender.

This does not mean that we adopt a starting point of 'us vs. the government', and vice versa. Antagonism is not on our agenda; the empowerment of women and girls towards gender equality is. In the end, the final result should be tangible benefits for the women and girls in the communities for whom we were organised to serve in the first place. 

 

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6. The Role of Women Lawyers in Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Women

It is no longer debatable that women's rights are human rights and these human rights include our right to gender equality. The rule of law dictates women's rights to gender equality as a legal obligation, and no one can respond with only empty rhetoric.The law on women's rights is hard law and is inscribed in the Charter of the United Nations and more clearly in international human rights instruments such as the very important CEDAW Convention.  

So, what can we, as women lawyers, do to promote and uphold the rights of women and children? We can, and have, contributed to legal literacy. We can be a lifeline for marginalised women and girls who need legal advice and representation, and we are in a leveraged position, by virtue of our profession, to be powerful in raising public awareness of women's issues. We have the tools; we are the tools. On the global battle plan against human trafficking,  women lawyers have a big role to play, and there are clear ways to go about it.    

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7. Equal Participation in Decision-Making: Taking a Leaf from CEDAW Reports

Although 181 of 191 UN member states have ratified CEDAW, only 20 countries have reached the UN-designated 30 per cent 'crtical mass' of women parliamentarians, which was agreed to by governments in the Beijing Platform for Action 11 years ago. Frequently, the support that women get from men, and more importantly, from other women, adopts a gender-bias patriarchal perspective of what women can do and how they should operate. State and NGO reports to the CEDAW Committee affirm that discriminatory cultural norms continue to be the main hurdle to women and girls participating equally in any significant decision-making. 

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8. Closing the gap with temporary special measures: Article 4 of CEDAW

Article 4 of CEDAW encourages the use of temporary special measures to help close the gap between de jure and de facto equality. I believe this is still relevant for New Zealand, and in particular, for women's participation in the local government elections in 2007.

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9. Women in Political Power

There is good news: The past 10 years have seen the fastest growth in the number of women in Parliaments, compared to previous decades.  However, if the numbers increase at current rates, it will not be until 2025 that an average 30% is reached, and not until 2040 that parity will be achieved. So, the question is: Is there a case for affirmative action to address this shortcoming? A corollary to this are the questions of whether it is good enough to have a small group of women in key positions of power, and what our commitment is to have a women-friendly political environment.


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10. Women in Politics, in Public Life

In Singapore, if we pay attention to our parliamentary debates and media reports, we will find that the improved conditions for women here came about because our women stepped up to the plate and got deeply involved in public life issues, including political decision-making. And this is how it should be. Because the decisions in those domains of politics and public life determine the normative rules by which every woman and girls lives her life, whether it is in the form of normative culture, guidelines or hard law.


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