People all around the world celebrated the International Women’s Day yesterday, on 8 March 2015.
In Singapore, events such as a job fair by the NTUC and a football fiesta were held to honour and celebrate the acheivements of women at work, at home and even on the football field.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we highlight 10 women that have helped to shape Singapore since independence:
- Kwa Geok Choo
The late Madam Kwa Geok Choo was married to Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew.
Despite her capability and intelligence as a lawyer, Madam Kwa was also a humble and dedicated wife as seen on the many occasions where she appeared together with Mr Lee Kuan Yew during his diplomatic trips and meetings with foreign dignitaries.
She was also among Singapore’s pioneer advocates for women’s rights, championing for women’s issues at the workplace and at home.
She passed away in her sleep at home on 2 October 2010, following a long illness.
- Halimah Yacob
Madam Halimah made history when she was appointed Singapore’s first female Speaker of Parliament.
Shortly after she graduated from the University of Singapore with a law degree, she started working as a legal officer with the National Trades Union Congress in 1978. She stayed on with the Labour Movement for 30 years, earning her reputation as a strong advocate for workers, women and the minorities.
After 10 years of being in politics, she was promoted to be Minister of State for Social and Family.
The mother of five children was appointed as Speaker of Parliament after 12 years in politics in 2013.
- Elim Chew
Most Singaporeans would recognise Elim Chew as the founder of street-wear brand, 77th Street. But not many know that she started out by opening a hair salon after undergoing a hairdressing course in the UK.
She started retail shop 77th Street at the young age of 22. She lends her expertise and experience to volunteer in various youth organisations in Singapore.
Chew is also a strong advocate against gender discrimination at the workplace. She believes that men and women have different views, and thus a boardroom should be inclusive with leaders of both sexes in order to have diverse ideas and feedbacks.
- Olivia Lum
Lum is best known for her role as the founder and Group President of Hyflux Ltd, a listed global environmental solutions company.
Born in Malaysia, Lum was adopted and never met her biological parents. To support herself in her studies, she took on tutoring and sales jobs. She graduated with an honours degree in Chemistry from the National University of Singapore in 1986.
After working three years in a pharmaceutical company, Lum started her own company with just $20,000.
Lum also served as a Nominated Member of Parliament between 2002 and 2004.
- Lim Hwee Hua
Mrs Lim Hwee Hua made the news when she became the first woman to become a full minister in the Cabinet in 2009.
She entered politics in 1997 after serving in the public and private sectors. As an MP, Lim advocated for better literacy for children from low-income families, and pushed for family-friendly policies at workplaces and for improvements to childcare.
Also a champion for women causes, Lim set a target for increasing the number of females in Parliament to 30% in 2009.
Lim retired from politics when her team lost the General Elections in 2011.
- Sylvia Lim
Ms Sylvia Lim started her career as a police inspector with the Singapore Police Force. She entered into private practice as a lawyer in 1994 before joining Temasek Polytechnic as a lecturer.
In 2001, Lim joined the Workers’ Party and rose to become its Chairman in 2003.
During the 2011 General Elections, her team won the Aljunied GRC and she was returned to Parliament as a Member of Parliament. She made history as the first female opposition MP in Singapore post-independence.
- Nicole Seah
The 28 year-old was introduced as a National Solidarity Party (NSP) candidate to contest in the 2011 General Elections.
Seah was part of the University Scholar’s Programme in National University of Singapore, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Social Science degree.
Her interest in politics was sparked by an encounter with a destitute woman who had no money for food, despite having a home of her own.
She now works in a brands communications company in Bangkok.
- Chan Heng Chee
Professor Chan Heng Chee became the first female ambassador from an East Asian country to be assigned to the United States. She held the post for 16 years till July 2012.
Throughout her distinguished career, Chan received numerous awards including the Inaugural International Woman of the Year Award from the Organisation of Chinese American Women and the Distinguished Service Order from the Singapore Government.
Her stint as ambassador also saw US-Singapore relations flourishing, with a US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement signed in 2003.
Chan now helms the National Arts Council as its Chairman, and is an Ambassador-at-Large with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- Diana Young
The Late Dr Diana Young founded aerospace company, Mil-Com Aerospace Group with her husband in 1993.
She started giving tuition at the age of 14 to earn her pocket money. After her ‘A’ Levels, she started working as a minute taken for the Singapore Island Country Club.
She went on to do a long distance Bachelor’s degree in business administration and later did a part-time Master’s degree in finance.
She passed away in a car accident in Xi’an, China in 2004 and is survived by her husband and two children.
- Lim Soo Hoon
Ms Lim Soo Hoon was Singapore’s first female Permanent Secretary when she was appointed in 2005 to the Public Service Division.
Her 30 year career has since saw her take on many high-profile positions in the public sector.
Lim has also helped shaped the training of public sector leaders by helping to develop the Civil Service College during its formative years.
She has also helped to promote rehabilitative care for juvenile delinquents.
The mother of two has also been a strong advocate for work-life balance.
On a Channel 8 show in January, NTUC Secretary-General Lim Swee Say shared how his wife played an important role in him entering politics. “I told PM Lee that I would consider (entering politics), but I need to ask my wife for her agreement.”
He later revealed on the same show that she agreed to him entering politics with tears in her eyes because she knew of the time and commitment that it will take for him to be in politics and away from the family.
While the rest of the world celebrates International Women’s Day, let’s not forget the women in our lives that have helped to support us in many ways!
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