Forum: Gender equality benefits both men and women

Amid the renewed public interest in gender equality, there have been Forum letters voicing both support for and scrutiny of the proposed review on women's issues (Review of women's issues a momentous step for nation, by Dr Kanwaljit Soin; Good time to review issues men face too, by Mr Timothy Toh Hong Ern, both Sept 23).

The abundant public commentary has, however, brought to the fore a rather pernicious and misogynistic train of thought: The notion that a focus on women's rights, and a review meant specifically to improve them, does a disservice to the male population of this country.

This stems from a fundamental misconception of gender equality as a zero-sum game - that it would be impossible to strengthen the constitutional and legislative protections for women in Singapore without significantly impairing the same for men.

Data from the United Nations Development Programme shows that countries with the lowest levels of gender inequality are often those that also rank highly on the human development index.

A recent World Health Organisation report on 41 European countries determined that men's health was actually poorer in more gender-unequal societies.

A reductive approach to gender equality also encourages an "us versus them" mentality. It divides the population along monolithic gender lines while ignoring the inherent diversity of Singapore's population.

The fight for gender equality has never been about the prescription of specific cultural behaviours or the effacing of family values. Its focus has always been the protection of fundamental rights for both women and men. An appreciation of the diversity of background and experience is foundational to any cohesive and progressive society.

This move by the Government to enhance women's rights should not be seen as divisive or discriminatory, but rather as an opportunity for us to gain a better understanding of our fellow Singaporeans.

Paul Leow