|Traditional roles stifle Asia's working
By Kalinga Seneviratne
SINGAPORE - Working women in Asia now have more
rights and choices at home and in the workplace, but
they also suffer increasing stress because they still
have to function in a traditional setting, experts say.
Ever since a woman's right to a career and an
independent lifestyle has been recognized, women have
climbed up the corporate ladder, held top government
positions, and excelled in their chosen professions.
These advancements, however, are not without a
downside, says psychologist Teresa Foong of Singapore's
Institute of Mental Health, who conducted a
stress-management seminar for women at the three-day
Women's Expo and Business Forum here that ended on
Foong said modern women in Asia are
facing increasing stress today because of higher
expectations and that they often have to function in a
traditional setting. "In the Asian context, one of the
reasons for stress [among professional women] is to be
seen to be credible, being responsible and being
actually able to perform the job," she said.
Asia, families are important and trying to balance
family and work could be very stressful," she added.
Former Singapore senior minister of state for
education Dr Aline Wong told the forum that the burning
issue is how women can strike a good balance between
work and family life, and how employers and communities
can help to achieve it.
She cited figures from a
United Nations report, "World's Women 2000", which shows
that the ratio of women among administrative and
managerial workers in Southeast Asia has risen by 11
percentage points in the last decade, the same increase
as in Western Europe. The ratio of women in technical
jobs as well as in business enterprises also increased
significantly in Asia during the period, which is also
the case in Western Europe, she said.
Asia have worked hard and achieved much, said the
organizers of the first-ever Women Inspire Expo and
Business Forum here last week, where business and
professional women from across Asia gathered for three
days to discuss common concerns.
"We want women
in business and professions to come together to share
experiences and also to foster closer relationships.
Hopefully that will develop into business alliances and
relationships," said Josephine Schlittler-Chong, founder
of Women Inspire and managing director of Singaswiss
To recognize female achievers
in Asia, the group launched the Women Inspire Awards in
five categories: arts, business, community services,
information technology (IT) and sports. Among the
inaugural winners were South Korean golfing star Pak Se
Ri; the principal of Thailand's Chiang Mai Ballet
Academy, Preeyapun Sridhavat; and the director of a
pioneering Indonesian IT company, Shanti
"In the past it has been a
male-dominated [business] world. Even today there is
gender discrimination," said Dr Jannie Tay, co-organizer
of Women Inspire and managing director of Malaysian
watch retailer The Hour Glass. "We are here to encourage
more women to participate in the economy, be financially
independent and give them some choices."
said overcoming gender discrimination is not easy, but
added that "because men are achievers, if the women also
get up there, compete and become successful, men will
ultimately respect them".
As Asian economies
grow and more women become successful business
executives, dilemmas and choices are increasingly going
to be debated, perhaps with no clear solution.
"Nowadays for a woman, career is priority and
family secondary, because she needs to have a good
standard of living and has high expectations," said
Yvonne Khong, of the Singapore Business and Professional
Just as priorities are
changing, the definition of work should also be seen in
a new context, said artist Ketna Patel, who had her own
stall at the expo.
"Career doesn't necessarily
mean a woman wearing shoulder pads and sitting at a
board meeting. Career shouldn't mean that," she said,
adding that if women can create enterprises where they
could work from home, then they will not have to make
the choice between children and a job. "We may have jobs
where you can work from home and have clients come to
you. Women need to start redefining what it means to
Jannie Tay added: "With new technology,
government support [in providing affordable child care],
and understanding and educated husbands, there is no
reason why we should be the only ones to stay at home."
(Inter Press Service)