In Her Shoes

by Astrid Young
28 Feb 2023

Koh Yan Ping, CEO of Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), is fighting the good fight for female empowerment in Singapore. Here’s what it’s like to walk in her shoes.

A female advocate at heart, Koh Yan Ping, CEO, SCWO, brings passion and dedication to a role that addresses critical issues that impact Singapore’s female workforce. With more than a decade’s worth of experience, she has rallied for female empowerment by working with unions, companies, communities, as well as government ministries and agencies.

She shares, “I joined the non-profit sector in 2008 and worked on developing programs and events that help foster family bonding for busy working families and young parents. A big part of family development work I do involves research and advocacy with a focus on workplace support for families. When the government formed the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in 2011 to drive efforts in boosting our declining birth rates, I helped to formulate recommendation papers on how Singapore can raise our total fertility rates. The recommendations put forth included reviewing paid Maternity Leave, introduction of paid Paternity Leave, more support for single mothers and couples with fertility challenges, which were reflected in the Enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package in 2013 and subsequent enhancements.”

Koh’s involvement and work across various social causes and women’s development over the last decade culminated in the launch of the year-long Conversations in Singapore Women’s Development in 2020. “Through the engagements organized and wide representation of participants, the views and opinions gathered was testament to the progress Singapore has made since our nation’s founding years, while at the same time highlighted that there is still much to be done,” she adds.

As CEO of SCWO, what is your goal for the organization? What are you and your team currently focusing and working towards?
Having spearheaded various women-centric career programs, mentorship, and advocacy campaigns in my previous roles, I look forward to establishing strong partnerships with our partners, stakeholders, and the public to champion key policies impacting women and their families with my team at SCWO. 

At SCWO, we provide support to women of all walks of life, facing challenges at various stages in their lives. Key services include:

Women in Distress

  • Through our Star Shelter, we provide these women with accommodation, clothing, food, and therapy.
  • We also have our Maintenance Support Centralto provide support and legal assistance to women who have difficulties getting spousal and/or child maintenance payments.
  • In 19 January, we launched SHECARES@SCWO in collaboration with one of our member organizations, SHE, to provide one-stop support for victims or survivors of online harms.

Women Leadership Programs

  • Our Women’s Registerconnects women aged 18 to 25 to female industry leaders from a wide range of sectors, aiming to help these young women build their social and professional networks.
  • Our BoardAgender program highlights the need of gender-balance in boards and businesses in Singapore. We provide women with mentorship towards a pipeline of board-ready women directors and continue engaging businesses and employers on the cause. 

Education and Empowerment

  • We launched the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame (SWHF)in 2014 to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women across 14 various categories, such as Business/Enterprise, Arts & Culture, Community/Social Work, and more. This month, we will be having our 9th induction ceremony in commemoration of International Women’s Day. This annual ceremony will see us inducting eight extraordinary women and presented with the Hall of Fame trophy, known as The Flame, by President Halimah Yacob. 
  • We also launched Project Awesome, an initiative that brings together inspiring stories of the awesome women in the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame to school children with lesson plans, interactive workshops, and talks and exhibitions. These teaching resources are made available to all schools, madrasahs, and children homes.

Beyond these initiatives, we are also working on engagement sessions, advocacy and research. and even building international relations, as the National Coordinating body of women’s organizations in Singapore. Our aim is to strengthen SCWO’s voice as the thought leader in advancing gender equality. 

There is an increasing number of women leaders in various industries in Singapore, especially in male-dominated ones like finance, tech, etc. When it comes to female equality and empowerment in the workplace, is Singapore in a good position?
In the latest national White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development, it is found that Singapore has made significant progress in providing equal opportunities in the workplace, and that employment rate of women especially between the ages of 25-64 increased from 53% in 1994 to 75% in 2021. More women have also taken on leadership roles, with 13.1% of Singapore companies in 2021 helmed by a female chief executive officer according to a recent Deloitte report, the highest share globally. 

However, more can be done. After holding consultations and engagements with various stakeholders including SCWO, the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness (TCWF) released a report highlighting 20 recommendations encompassed in four key thrusts for the Workplace Fairness Legislation. This includes strengthening protections against workplace discrimination and also ensuring fair outcomes through redress for victims of workplace discrimination and more appropriate penalties for breaches. We also hope to see efforts dedicated to educating employers, including line managers on the unconscious bias against women that can lead to some form of microaggression.

We will continue advocating for more to be done to prevent and manage workplace harassment. This is an issue that is under-reported in many workplaces with women being silent victims of harassment for fear of retaliation or for lack of knowledge on avenues of help.

We’ll also look to enable more women to participate fully in the workplace by entrenching flexible work arrangements as a workplace norm, including championing for more caregiver support to ease the unproportionate caregiving burden on women. To achieve this, we need to normalize men as caregivers and break the gender stereotype.

What is it about your role at SCWO that you find most fulfilling?
As a working mother of three, I am heartened to be able to bring my personal experience and perspective into what I do professionally – to encourage women who are finding it a challenge to manage career and family. On top of that, it is assuring to know that what I’ve done thus far has helped to guide and shape the work on gender equality and women’s development on a wider industry level.