Discrimination Essay Outlines

Discrimination

The Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a detainment facility of the United States.

The facility was established in 2002 by the Bush Administration to hold detainees from the war in Afghanistan and later Iraq.

"These are the worst of a very bad lot. They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort" - Dick Cheney, Jan 27th, 2002 commenting on Guantánamo detainees [ Fox News]

"Few of the approximately 750 individuals who have passed through Guantánamo or are still imprisoned there were devoted to killing Americans in any active sense, and the people who really fit this description now in US custody have never been held in Cuba. The evidence suggests that large numbers of the Gitmo prisoners, running into the hundreds, were absolutely innocent of the least involvement in anything that could reasonably be described as terrorist activity" - David Rose, Guantánamo. America's war on human rights [Pg9]

Many people held in Guantánamo were not actually captured in Afghanistan at all. They were literally kidnapped or abducted in flagrant contravention of various national and international laws from places like Zambia, Gambia, and Pakistan.

In November of 2001, President George W. Bush issued a presidential order, that captured Al-Qaeda terrorists would be tried by special Military commissions, free of the restrictions imposed by civilian courts. This order was later expanded to include members of the Taliban. Detainees would be treated as unlawful combatants, and under legal advice provided by the Justice department in the person of Alberto Gonzales (in an internal memo dated January 25th 2002), would not come under the jurisdiction of the Geneva Convention.

Note: The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war.

Key Players: Role of NGOs

Amnesty International (Human Rights Group) released its annual report calling the facility the "gulag of our times.“

The International Committee of the Red Cross(ICRC) inspected the camp in June 2004. In a confidential report issued in July 2004 and leaked to The New York Times in November 2004, Red Cross inspectors accused the U.S. military of using "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions" against prisoners.

Human Rights Watch: has criticized the Bush administration over this designation in its 2003 world report, stating: "Washington has ignored human rights standards in its own treatment of terrorism suspects. It has refused to apply the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war from Afghanistan, and has misused the designation of 'illegal combatant' to apply to criminal suspects on U.S. soil."

Key Players: Role of IGOs

In November 2005, a group of experts from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights called off their visit to Camp Delta, originally scheduled for December 6, saying that the United States was not allowing them to conduct private interviews with the prisoners. The group, nevertheless, stated its intention to write a report on conditions at the prison based on eyewitness accounts from released detainees, meetings with lawyers and information from human rights groups.

In February 2006, the UN group released its report, which called on the U.S. either to try or release all suspected terrorists.

Key Players: Governments

European leaders have also voiced their opposition to the internment center. On January 13, 2006, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the U.S. detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay: "An institution like Guantánamo, in its present form, cannot and must not exist in the long term. We must find different ways of dealing with prisoners. As far as I'm concerned, there's no question about that," she declared in a January 9 interview to Der Spiegel.

Meanwhile in the UK, Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated during a live broadcast of Question Time (February 16, 2006) that: "I would prefer that it wasn't there and I would prefer it was closed."

His cabinet colleague and Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, declared the following day that the centre was "an anomaly and sooner or later it's got to be dealt with.“

Key Players: Individuals

The book, Inside the Wire by Erik Saar and Viveca Novak also claims to reveal the abuse of prisoners.

Investigative Journalists: David Rose

Key Players: Working Together

In March 2007, a group of British Parliamentarians formed an All-party parliamentary group to campaign against Guantánamo Bay. The group is made up of Members of Parliament and peers from each of the main British political parties, and is chaired by Sarah Teather with Des Turner and Richard Shepherd acting as Vice Chairs. The Group was launched with an Ambassadors' Reception in the House of Commons, bringing together a large group of lawyers, non-governmental organizations and governments with an interest in seeing the camp closed.

'Discrimination against women is still a global social epidemic today.' Is this true?

To Pass

· Make a clear stand as to whether discrimination against women today is still a global social epidemic compared to the situation in the past.

· Show a clear understanding of key terms:

v Discrimination against women: unfair treatment of women as a result of their gender by individuals or groups with unfair gender policies or practices.

v Global social epidemic: discriminatory practices against women are pervasive problems that are spreading and inflicting harm across societies worldwide

· Evidence of various forms of discrimination against women cited must be current because of the time frame 'today' and must involve comparison with evidence of past discriminatory practices that still persist till today across many countries.

· Provide balance by providing reasons (e.g. education, outlawing or legal protection by governments, pressure by aid agencies or human rights groups) why some forms of discrimination are no longer a global social epidemic as they are diminishing and practised only among smaller pockets of people in some societies and the harm inflicted is under control.

To Score

· Candidates should cite specific evidence to substantiate their viewpoint.

· Some possible specific examples:

v female genital mutilation still practised in 28 African countries and some groups in Asia, Middle East and immigrant communities in Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA on 2 million girls and women to limit women's sexual desires (WHO statistics)

v honour killings of 5000 women and girls every year overwhelmingly associated with certain Muslim cultures in 22 countries ( UN statistics) due to women's unsanctioned sexual behaviour or behaviour of relatives bringing such shame on family that any female accused or suspected must be murdered

v domestic violence and abuse against 3 million women across the world each year ( Commonwealth Fund 1998 statistics)

v millions of cases of female infanticide practised since ancient times in China, India, South and East Asia due to preference for sons ( Society for Prevention of infanticide)

v 120,000 women and girls in poor countries trafficked every year into Western Europe for the sex industry (International Organisation of Migration statistics)

v Could account for the persistence of such discriminatory treatment ( deeply entrenched social attitudes and prejudices, difficulty of persecution and intervention by different governments and NGOs)

· Cite specific examples for balance ( e.g. the confinement of some forms of discrimination to only one country such as annual dowry deaths of 5000 brides only in India; discriminatory practices confined only to poor rural communities; pledge by 189 governments and the law in many countries today to fight against discrimination against women in all forms, according to 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing)

· Candidates can cite evidence of new possible forms of discrimination that were not practised previously.

‘There has never been a better time to be a woman.’ Is this true of the developed world today?

Candidates would have to address the underlying assumption mentioned in the statement that now is the best time to be a woman, in the context of the modern developed countries. They are also expected to compare life as a woman in the developed world today with that of the past. In doing so, relevant characteristics of the developed world in the past and today would have to be evaluated/ discussed. Some of these include an increased awareness of gender equality, the increasing education levels of women, how traditional roles of women are increasingly challenged, and the legislation and organisations set up to protect the interests of women. Candidates may consider the changing expectations and responsibilities of women, and how women are now given more opportunities to pursue what they want personally and professionally. These candidates may also discuss the observation that with increased opportunities, women are now expected to juggle between work and family, whereas in the past women need not face such pressures. The discussion should cover different aspects of a woman’s life.

Better essays are likely to demonstrate the awareness that certain stigma and prejudice against women still exist today, and that women have to battle that while managing the increased expectations.

Candidates should not discuss at length the difference in the treatment of women in the developed with that in the developing world. The focus should always remain on the situation of women in the developed world. Candidates should not merely describe the life of a woman in the past/today without explaining how it has been made better or worse.

Stereotypes are generalizations that should not exist. Comment.

While it is not an absolute must to state the definition of stereotype, students who can do a good job of providing one should be rewarded. It would also help them understand the implications of the question better.

Stereotypes (n) – beliefs or ideas of what a particular type of person or thing is like, but are often unfair and untrue

Stereotypes should not exist

§ Stereotyping often results from, and leads to, prejudice and bigotry and unchecked prejudice and bigotry leads to discrimination, violence, and, in extreme cases, genocide (e.g. the Holocaust)

§ Can be an impression of a select few of the group, but not representative of the wider community. Or be representative of the majority, but not to every individual (e.g. I might be the only football fan in my group who does not like beating somebody up but I am still a football fan). The important point is while there may be truths to stereotypes, it must never threaten the knowledge that every individual is unique.

§ Can inflict a profound sense of injustice in the victim, which leads to the victims taking retaliatory action, either through aggressive acts, or simply stereotyping their accusers, which promotes a vicious cycle.

Stereotypes should exist

§ Most stereotypes are unfair but not completely unfounded. There is usually some truth to them, either by common observation, or in some cases actual statistical evidence.

§ It provides a reference point for the community to examine itself (without having to agree with their accusers).

§ Could be more true than false in some cases, and the ‘victim’ are the only ones who think the ‘stereotype’ is unfair

A more nuanced approach will perhaps acknowledge that that some stereotypes are more benign than others (the computer geek vs Islamic ‘terrorists’), and while even computer geeks may laugh about their being stereotyped that way, Muslims are at the end of a very unfair and potentially explosive stereotype, which must be stopped.

Students can approach this essay by raising some common stereotypes, and using them as reference points to examine the statement. Some of these that might be raised are:

  • Gender stereotypes (Man strong – Women weak / Men violent – Women nurturing etc)
  • Racial stereotypes (Chinese are short and mercenary, African Americans are tall and violent, Jews have large noses and are calculating etc)
  • Cultural stereotypes (Americans are all liberal, Singaporeans are all apathetic, the British love to talk about the weather etc)
  • Religious stereotypes (Muslims are terrorists, Jews are self-centred, Christians are overly-passionate about evangelism etc)
  • Other stereotypes (Football fans are hooligans, Computer Programmers are geeks, Rock stars can’t read)

7. A woman has to make an extra effort to succeed. How far is this true in today’s world?

Make an extra effort – having to make greater efforts/sacrifices compared to their male counterparts, going the extra mile/trying much harder to overcome the odds; more is expected of them

Succeed in life – to excel, to be recognized in both the private (eg: family, marriage, relationships) and public spheres (eg: career/work life, political participation etc)

True

- Socially constructed gender roles imposed on women – long been entrenched in cultures and people’s mindsets - a shift in cultural paradigm may take time – hard to break away from the rigidity of their socially assigned roles in life - makes it harder to defy the rigidity (eg: a working mother is expected to excel in both her career and her domestic responsibilities in family- double amount of expectations imposed on her compared to a husband – people tend to frown upon a working mother if she fails to take care of her family responsibilities)

- Sexism/gender discrimination/inequalities are still the order of the day in many countries – manifested in the various social policies in society – Eg: employment policies (the perceived inferiority of women for certain high positions in a company; “glass ceiling” imposed on women in terms of pay and career advancement), limited political participation and access to education and healthcare (women in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule; women in certain developing countries), domestic/family violence (eg: victimization of abused women, arranged marriages for women) – hence women do need to make an extra effort/try much harder to overcome these challenges/inequalities imposed on them

- Push for gender equality/feminist movements is still a snail’s pace in many countries – faced with great resistance – tremendous efforts have to be made to educate people/to inspire social changes - the fact that women/feminist activities have been trying so hard to champion for women’s rights (as seen in the 1st Wave and 2nd Wave of Feminism) clearly shows that women do have to make an extra effort to overcome the social stigma that they face in life

Not true

- Women in developed countries – Because of the higher level of education, it may be easier for women in developed counties to be treated with equal social rights with men – there is greater social understanding and opportunities are already made easily available to them to excel and succeed in life (the idea of a “level playing field” in today’s modern society) - hence they do not need to try as hard as other women in other less developed countries

- Feminist movements are really gaining speed around the world – there is greater social awareness now than in the past- various policies have been made to redress gender inequalities – eg: affirmative action policies in employment and educational institutions – Equal Employment Opportunity Act in the U.S serves as a safeguard against sexism - Sisters in Islam”, an organization formed by a group of Muslim women who seek to educate people on issues of women’s rights among the Muslim women – greater state’s intervention in the area of maternity leave (eg: Sweden is one country which provides generous parental leave (for both working mothers and fathers) in connection with the child's birth) – There are also more women than men in the new Spanish cabinet

- A revolutionized image of a “modern woman” – a complete paradigm shift in today’s society- there is greater empowerment among women - it has become common that many women nowadays are educated, financially independent and having their own identities – many of them are charismatic/capable leaders in many major areas such as world businesses and politics (Hilary Clinton, Carly Fiona, Glorio Arroyo, the late Benazir Bhutto, democracy icon Aung San Su Kyi)

- The changing roles of men in society – the traditional gender roles are becoming less rigid in today’s modern society – there is better understanding and collaboration between two gender groups – equal distribution of power and resources both in the private and public life

‘Civilised society is characterised by tolerance.’ Discuss.

Students should define the keywords ‘tolerance’ and ‘civilised society’.

· Tolerance- a fair, objective, liberal and permissive attitude toward ideas, opinions, values and practices that differ from one's own (race, religion, language, nationality, sexual orientation etc); freedom from bigotry.

· Civilised society- educated and sophisticated populace; gracious community, one that is humane, caring and showing concern for others.

· Students should consider the extent to which tolerance is a good indicator or measure of a refined society.

Yes

· A society that does not respect differences or diversity can be economically developed but morally impoverished (e.g. foreign workers and domestic maids who are marginalised by society, which does not view them as equals). The extent of care and concern for minority groups in society also reveals if a society is civilised.

· It is important for a civilised society to be inclusive and open to alternative viewpoints. This is the only way to ensure progress and development. (Students could refer to the recent AWARE saga and consider the implications when religious values encroach upon social space. Would greater tolerance prevent such an episode from threatening to polarise society?)

· Tolerance is the key to social and political harmony. Prejudice and discrimination are not marks of a civilised society. Racist bloggers and Danish cartoonists who produced caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad are examples of people who lack tolerance for other cultures and religions, their actions resulting in social tensions and upheavals.

No

· Developed countries like the United States are regarded as advanced societies because they celebrate diversity and embrace it (e.g. election of the first African-American president in the history of the country). Tolerance alone is insufficient to bring about change. Genuine respect and appreciation are required for the development of a progressive nation.

· Debate and argument are still important for a society. Tolerance may stifle a diversity of views from being expressed (e.g. stringent censorship laws enacted in the name of religious/racial tolerance). A civilised society needs to value freedom of expression and democratic principles.

· Social activism and the degree of open discussion are thus more important measures of a civilised society. Attempts to reconcile differences will only be possible through a passionate sharing of diverse views (e.g. online forums and blogs).

3. How far do you agree with the view that gender equality remains a distant dream?

Gender equality - the idea of levelling the playing field to provide equal rights and opportunities to both men and women in society

A distant dream - implies that gender equality is unattainable or hard to achieve/realise; a utopian ideal in society

Students are required to analyse the different challenges/stumbling blocks that societies encounter in the process of advocating gender equality. A balanced analysis is required as students also need to consider the reasons why gender equality need not be a distant dream in society. Students must take a stand by weighing and evaluating these different reasons.

Reasons for gender equality to be a distant dream-

· Socially constructed roles still imposed on both men and women – long been entrenched in cultures and people’s mindsets - a shift in cultural paradigm may take a very long time – hard to break away from the rigidity of their expected roles in life – women largely confined to their expected/rigid gender roles - makes it harder to defy the rigidity (eg: a working mother is expected to excel in both her career and her domestic responsibilities in family- greater expectations imposed on her compared to a husband – people tend to frown upon a working mother if she fails to take care of her family responsibilities - gender roles of men and women are rigidly defined in Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea).

· Sexism/gender discrimination/oppression is still the order of the day in many countries – manifested in the various social policies/practices in society – employment policies (the perceived inferiority of women for certain high positions in a company; “glass ceiling” imposed on women), limited political participation and access to education/healthcare (women in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule; under-representation of women in politics in many countries), domestic/family violence (victimisation of abused women).

· Gender equality/feminist movements are still at a snail’s pace in many countries – faced with great resistance due to traditions/cultures– tremendous efforts have to be made to educate people/to inspire social changes - the fact that women/feminist activities have been trying so hard to advocate women’s rights (as seen in the 1st Wave and 2nd Wave of Feminism) clearly shows that extra efforts have to be made to turn gender equality into a reality.

· Critics also argue that gender equality is sometimes pursued at the expense of men’s welfare as well- gender equality tends to focus too much on women’s rights, causing men to be disadvantaged in today’s world and leading to greater inequalities between men and women–eg: men tend to lose out in legal battles over custody rights of children and alimony – men are sometimes denied access to female-dominated professions such as nursing- eg: the emergence of male movements such as Promise Keepers, the Million Men March and the Daddy Movement signifies that men are downtrodden and their welfare is greatly neglected by society too.

Reasons for gender equality to be an achievable goal

· Feminist movements and gender equality are really gaining momentum around the world, with fairly tangible achievements – there is definitely greater social awareness now than in the past- various policies have been made to redress gender inequalities – e.g.: Affirmation action in employment and educational institutions – Equal Employment Opportunity Act in the U.S serves as a safeguard against sexism - “Sisters in Islam”, an organisation formed by a group of Muslim women who seek to educate people on issues of women’s rights among the Muslim women around the world – Countries like Rwanda, Sweden and Denmark have rather high ratios of female representation in politics (taking almost half of the seats in the parliaments)– There are also more women than men in the new Spanish cabinet.

· Gender equality in developed countries – Because of the higher level of education and social awareness, it may be easier for gender equality to be advocated and sustained in the developed countries - there is greater social understanding and opportunities are already made easily available for women to excel and succeed in life - hence gender equality need not be a distant dream entirely.

· The brand-new image of a “modern woman” – a complete paradigm shift in today’s society- there is greater empowerment among women - it is common that many women nowadays are educated, financially independent and having their own identities – comparable to their male counterparts, many of them are charismatic leaders in many major areas such as world businesses and politics (Hilary Clinton, Condolezza Rice, Carly Fiona, Glorio Arroyo, the late Benazir Bhutto, democracy icon Aung San Su Kyi).

· The changing roles of men in society- the traditional gender roles are becoming less rigid in today’s modern society- there is better understanding and collaboration between two gender groups – both striving towards equal distribution of power and resources both in the private and public life.

“A society intolerant of differences”. Is this an accurate assessment of your country?

Topic: general, includes prejudice and discrimination

Issue: Whether your country (Singapore) makes room for differences

Keywords: intolerant, accurate assessment - suggest the statement is absolute

Context: your country- Singapore, mainly present

To pass:

- Discuss 2-3 different areas where Singapore shows tolerance/intolerance

- There may be lack of examples but P and R are reasonably sound

To score:

- Able to show that within the same perspective there is tolerance in some areas and not others

- Able to see that tolerance level is different at individual, societal and country levels.

Possible Approach:

POINT

REASON

EVIDENCE

Differences in age in somewhat tolerated in Singapore..

-In the workplace, younger workers are favoured in place of older ones. However, government agencies are trying to change mindsets of employers by highlighting the value of older workers. They also encourage older workers to constantly upgrade themselves so that they are still useful in the workforce.

-However, in terms of housing and access to public facilities and amenities, the elderly’s needs are being considered and met.

-Those over 40years old find it more difficult to find a job.

-In retrenchment exercises, those who are older are more likely to be retrenched.

-“The advantage is yours” campaign in April 2006 by WDA to promote value of older workers

-The building of more studio apartments by HDB, specifically targeted at the elderly.

- Fitness corners for the elderly

Singapore is making efforts to be inclusive by accommodating the needs of the disabled.

-One need the disabled have is accessibility, especially in public transport.

-This helps them be less dependent on others.

-Other needs, like education, are being considered as well

-Disabled to have better access to buildings (ST, 26/9/06, same title)

-750 disabled people who have the intellect to cope with mainstream schools are in such schools and plans are underway to include more children (ST, 6/9/06, “Put more disabled kids in normal schools”)

Singapore has been rather rigid in education but is becoming open and accepting of different talents and abilities.

-Some rigidity in the mainstream education system as certain paper qualifications are needed to pursue a certain course of study

-Late-bloomers are disadvantaged because students are streamed at a young age.

-But more is being done to accommodate differences

-Sports school, Arts School to cater to those who are inclined in the respective areas (but there still remains some level of intolerance as grades still come first)

-Removal of EM3 stream in 2008 (ST, 28/9/06, “EM3 stream to be dropped from 2008”)

Singapore is still intolerant of certain issues which are contrary to conservative moral beliefs.

-Homosexuality is not accepted in society.

-Certain activities that gay people want to carry out are not allowed in Singapore although on personal levels more are accepting of people who are homosexual.

-Homosexual acts banned in Singapore

-Gay groups eg. People Like Us are not allowed as registered societies

1. ‘If all people were of one race, there would be no discrimination.’ Do you agree?

Possible Stand:

DISAGREE

Whilst the degree of racial prejudice may diminish a little (If all people were of one race), there will still be other social divisions by caste, socio-economic class, education, gender etcetera that would give rise to prejudice and discrimination.

Approach

Balancing Point: Acknowledge that racial differences - often the basis for prejudice and discrimination. Concede that if all people were of one race and there are no visible racial or ethnic differences, it would reduce considerably a lot of prejudice and discrimination. History has many instances of racial oppression. For example: ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

But there are other social discriminators that will continue to marginalize the different groups in society

1. Gender

- Women, in many cultures have always been a variable in discrimination. Women are often discriminated. Even the laws in many countries condone these discriminatory practices.

- Examples:

o men can escape rape charges if they marry their victims (Bolivia, Nicaragua, Panama & Venezuela etc.)

o men can kill their wives to avenge “family honour” in Haiti and Syria

o cannot drive in Saudi Arabia

o cannot work in military submarines in Britain

o cannot vote in Kuwait

o in Japan, women are barred from remarrying for six months after a divorce but men are not.

- Women are often treated as second-class citizens

2. Caste

- Caste discrimination is another form of social discrimination

- India: the term “untouchables” was abolished in 1950 under India’s constitution, the “oppressed people” or Dalits as they are now referred to, continue to be discriminated against. They are denied access to land, forced to work in humiliating and degrading conditions and are routinely abused by the police and upper-caste groups, which enjoy the state’s protection.

- Japan: against the Burakumin. Official discrimination against the Burakumin has long disappeared. The authorities point to the fact that members of this invisible caste today have the same legal rights as all other Japanese. They have the same physical traits, speak the same language and share the same religion. But written laws are not always the same as what goes on in people’s minds - unofficial discrimination toward the Burakumin by property-owners, estate agents and company officials in terms of wages etc.

3. Socio-economic class

- Economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots à feelings of inequality

- Our consumerist culture assumes that what you own defines a person

- Class divisions exist In many society

- Economic disparity – critical social issue in many countries

- For example: in Singapore - 30% earn less than a $1000/mth vs. the average income of $4500.

Gender is no longer a helpful concept. Do you agree?

The basic idea that underlies this question is the traditional equation of sex and gender: the idea that one’s biological sex necessitates or logically leads to certain gender roles (whether social, economic or political). The term ‘no longer’ suggests the need for a temporal referent: students should make some reference to changed social/economic conditions and relate this back to their central argument.

Three possible argument paths which assume that ‘helpful’ refers to the concept’s usefulness in creating an ideal society:

  • the gains of feminism have been so significant (or the fact that social changes have been so drastic) that gender has ceased to be an issue, and that today’s societies and workplaces are so gender-neutral that we can drop the concept.
  • Feminism’s aim of establishing the view that "women are people" has not been met. As such, gender remains a real point of distinction in people’s minds and continues to be a relevant concept in identifying and combating discrimination. It is premature to suggest that it is unhelpful.
  • Feminism, in bringing women into the workplace and making women man-like, has wrecked the social order. The concept of gender, and the roles that it prescribes, are necessary because we need an ideal which we can return to.

It would also be possible to structure an essay by unpacking the idea of ‘helpful’: students could look at the sense of the word – ‘helpful in what sense?’

  • As a useful guide to social behaviour, in terms of dictating how men and women should behave and how they should relate to each other. Students arguing in favour of the statement could cite the ways in which the need to be macho and virile (for men) or fey and submissive (for women) has proved a straitjacket in many cultures, preventing men from being expressive and intimate, and inhibiting women from being more assertive about their needs.
  • As a means of meeting a community/society’s economic and political interests. Gender-segregated professions were traditionally a social norm. Do today’s economic and political conditions change the relevance of those norms?

Markers will probably have to keep their liberal/conservative instincts in check, and reward students instead for their ability to perceive major social trends and to relate this back to the issue of the continued relevance of gender as a conceptual category.

Do you think society remains intolerant of the different?

Key words: ‘remains’, ‘intolerant’, ‘the different’.

Being intolerant of the different: does not accept / discriminates against those who are different. ‘The different’ could refer to those of a different race, religion, socio-cultural background, education, nationality, have a different political ideology etc. ‘The different’ could also refer to the non-conformist / those not of the mainstream.

Requirements of question:

The word ‘remains’ requires students to show an awareness of the degree of tolerance or intolerance society demonstrates today as compared with the past.

Possible stands to adopt:

Society has become more tolerant of the different today as compared to the past.

Society has become less tolerant of the different today as compared to the past.

Society remains just as intolerant of the different today as it has been in the past.

Possible points for discussion:

Society has become more tolerant

· Education – people today are more educated and are taught to be more accepting of differences / made more aware of the need to be tolerant/ more likely to read and be exposed to other cultures, beliefs etc. Education broadens horizons / cultivates a more open mind. (E.g. in Singapore, in the past – racial riots, divisions drawn very clearly along racial / religious lines. Today, people are more educated – national education has also helped to increase our tolerance of others and helped us live in harmony.)

· We live in more civilized and enlightened times where people are not so fearful of the unknown or the different due to education and science. (compared to during the Dark Ages where superstition ruled the people – witch hunts carried out, people who were born with physical defects put to death, considered as freaks etc.)

· Media / Communications system – Advancements in technology / mass media’s influence e.g. through the internet, TV programmes, books etc. has led to better understanding of other cultures, religions, ethnic groups (National Geographic programmes etc.) People no longer view people of other cultures, races or religions as ‘aliens’ or ‘devils’ as compared to in the past.

· Transport – advancements in transport systems has made traveling easier and led to more people traveling and working in different parts of the world. Increase in the number of cosmopolitan societies leads to less suspicion of the unknown or different

Society has become less tolerant

· With the rise in terrorist threats, people are becoming increasingly suspicious of those who are different – viewing them as potential threats.

· Foreigners / immigrants are viewed as threats and competitors in countries that have a large number of immigrants. With increasing numbers of immigrants, locals feel increasingly less welcoming and tolerant of them. E.g. incidents of racism and racial politics in Australia (Pauline Hanson case etc.)

· More educated people / IT-savvy people are increasingly less tolerant of those who are not ‘keeping up’ with technology – increasingly they are seen as dinosaurs or backward and are retrenched or side-lined (the gap between the IT literate and illiterate is increasing as we live in a fast-paced world coupled with advancements in IT developments which outstrip our patience for those who cannot keep up.)

· America seems to be imposing its ideal of democracy on other non-democratic countries – increasingly there less to be less tolerance and space given to the countries who do not share the dominant political ideology of the States – e.g. countries labeled as Axis of Evil etc.

· In this fast-paced society that is highly competitive (like Singapore) there seems to be little use or tolerance for the slow, mentally challenged or disabled. Society marginalizes them.

Society remains as intolerant as it has always been.

· Bring up the point that there have always been and still exists cases of discrimination in society whether social, political, racial or religious in nature. (Show that these existed in the past by giving some examples and show that they still exist today by citing some examples from today’s society.)

· Human nature has not changed fundamentally.

Topic

Discrimination

Question

Is it true that Singapore will be an increasingly difficult place for the have-nots?

Writer

Tristan Neo, 07A11

School

VJC

After 43 years of independence, Singapore has come a long way in terms of development, from a once fishing village to today’s bustling urban city. Coupled with the development of our landscape and infrastructure, Singapore has also experienced significant economic growth. Though the growth of our economy has slowed down since the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stepped down, our economic growth is still relatively large when compared with those of other countries. Such rapid growth of the economy has led to Singapore’s ever-changing industry, and Singapore will be an increasingly difficult place for the have-nots.

When we refer to the have-nots, we are talking about the poor and the lowly skilled and uneducated. They are the ones who lack the wealth, skills or education to keep up with the country’s rapid economic development. Because such impressive economic growth often entails a rise in the cost of living, the poor find it harder to survive when they cannot match a rise in wealth with the rising cost in living. The rise in the cost of living is a result of a chain effect when a country experiences more economic activity. What usually takes place is a rise in profits of a particular firm or a company, corresponding with the rise in income of the employees which ultimately increases consumption of goods and services by those who have enjoyed a pay rise. However, more often than not, these benefits are unevenly distributed and are only enjoyed by the rich and the higher-middle class. Hence, the inflation, which is caused by increased consumption, will raise the cost of living while the poor see no change to their income levels to cope with this inflation. Just this year, Singapore has seen an all high inflation rate of 7%. Most of the goods that have seen a price spike are necessary commodities like food and energy that the poor cannot do without. This inflation rate increase was due to a rise in oil prices as global demand for oil increase while global supply decreased. Since Singapore imports most of its resources, the country is very susceptible to external shocks such as that of the oil price increase.

It does not help that Singapore has a lack of strong trade unions to push for increased wages for the poor. The lack of strong trade unions work in favour of foreign direct investment into the country. Moreover, steps taken by the government to redistribute wealth have been questionable. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has always been seen as a form of regressive tax which is more detrimental to the poor than the rich as it takes up a higher percentage of the poor’s income. Yet, in recent years, the government has actually raised GST from 5% to 7%. Although they claim to have given tax rebates to everyone, including larger amounts for the poor, will this really benefit the poor in the long run? Some have argued that the government should raise progressive taxes (to aid the poor) such as income tax and corporate tax to reduce income inequality. However, how high can these taxes go before the incentive to work diminishes? In addition, the economy is continuously growing. Yet, the government cannot tax the rich and high middle income groups indefinitely.

The other group of people classified under the have-nots are usually poor. Thus, the uneducated and lowly skilled can be said to be a subset of the poor. The reason why the lowly skilled and uneducated will find it harder to live in Singapore is simple. It is because of Singapore’s shift from the manufacturing industry to a service-oriented industry. As other developing countries start to tap on their comparative advantage of abundance, cheap labour, Singapore has been smart to shift the economic focus onto service-oriented industries like biomedical industries and tourism. Even though the manufacturing of semiconductors for exports still exists, industries producing other manufactured products such as car parts have seen unemployment. Given the fact that they are lowly skilled and uneducated, these people will find it hard to find new jobs in the service industry. In many situations, most are left unemployed for prolonged periods of time while those fortunate enough to find a new job may find themselves with a lower income. This lowering or even loss of income makes the circumstances for the have-nots worse, especially in the light of the aforementioned increasing inflation rate.

Then again, things are not all that bleak for the have-nots in Singapore. Over the years, the government has pumped more of its expenditure on education and the retraining of the lowly-skilled and uneducated population. With increasing foreign workers providing competition for lower end jobs, the lowly skilled and uneducated are now pushed to improve themselves, to increase their efficiency and productivity and ultimately better their standard of living. Since the elderly have proved to be more resistant to the idea of retraining, it is the younger generation that the government should be focused on. Aside from providing retraining resources, our education system has also been improved to equip people with the skills and know-how to find decent paying jobs in the future. Polytechnics, which focus on developing the specific skills of the students, have seen a greater student population in the last five years, proving that there has been adequate resources provided to increase the carrying capacity of such educational facilities.

The government has even taken steps to raise the retirement age by creating incentives for firms that hire the old. As such, the burden of an ageing population in Singapore will not fall so heavily on the younger generation, specifically those classified as the have-nots, and this will subsequently make it easier for them to survive in our society. Lastly, Singapore has always maintained a relatively low unemployment rate of 2% to 3%. Though some of those employed may have very low pay, such a situation is still much more optimistic than one with extremely high rates of inflation.

In conclusion, though Singapore has become and will increasingly become a difficult place for the have-nots, there have been several promising steps taken by the government to ease the situation for them. As a result, I am optimistic that Singapore’s economic growth and ever-changing industry will start to benefit and not cripple us in the future.

Topic

Discrimination

Question

“It is definitely more advantageous to be a diverse society than a homogeneous one.” Discuss.

Writer

Rachel Lee, 07A15

School

VJC

In the face of globalization, a term that describes the ‘flattening of the world’ due to increased connectivity between countries and individuals that would have otherwise been separated by physical boundaries, it is apparent that the idea of a homogeneous society is fast becoming reality. Instead of celebrating the unique traits that each diverse society has to offer, it seems that globalization has increasingly rendered cultures gland and uninteresting, causing them to take on similar traits. While some may fervently argue that this cultural consequence is but a small price to pay for the enormous economic benefits that globalization promises and delivers, I strongly believe that it is much more advantageous to be a diverse society than a homogeneous one. This essay will aim to discuss the economic, social and political benefits that a culturally-rich society can potentially generate.

One obvious advantage of a diverse society is quite simply that of an increased variety in cultural traits and traditions. With the presence of a complex multitude of differing cultural groups, each offering their own unique brand of cultural practices and identities, it is almost impossible for one to be able to resist the chance to experience the intoxicating, dynamic blend of these vastly different cultures. This is one phenomenon that governments of diverse societies have observed, which they have translated into every capitalist’s dream – the tourist dollar. By marketing their countries or states as a destination bursting with cultural variety and brimming with people from all walks of life and backgrounds, they are able to establish themselves at the forefront of cultural diversity, and lure the ever-willing tourists who are hungry for a taste of authentic cultural richness.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has definitely made the most out of the nation’s melting pot of different cultures and races, launching a campaign very aptly titled “Uniquely Singapore”. The campaigns banks heavily on the colourful cultural scene that Singapore enjoys, with posters depicting children of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian heritages sharing a bowl of ‘ice kachang’, a Singaporean ice treat, with huge smiles and satisfied faces. STB’s strategy to market Singapore as the Southeast Asian country with the distinctive edge of having a harmonious society has worked wonders. The Straits Times, a Singaporean newspaper, has recently reported that tourism rates in Singapore have increased, with a large percentage of tourists hailing from China and Japan, both of which are largely homogeneous societies without any significant cultural diversity. It is thus fair to conclude that the presence of cultural variety presents countries with the huge potential of amassing economic benefits when handled accurately.

It is also important not to neglect the social benefits that a diverse society is able to cultivate. While racial and cultural tensions are expected and almost a given in areas where distinctly different groups of people coexist, careful management of these situations can not only alleviate such notions of dissatisfaction between groups, but can also lead the people into becoming more tolerant and forgiving towards the habits and practices of an individual from another cultural background. With enough education and exposure, people gain a deeper understanding of belief systems and traditions other than their own and it is likely that people will also become more open towards differences. The result is a harmonious and friendly environment for all to live in.

Singapore has been fortunate enough to be able to maintain this peaceful and tolerant state following the devastating racial riots in 1964. Having experienced for themselves the sheer horror and bloodshed that racial animosity is able to inflict, Singaporeans have since adopted a much more open stance towards their fellow citizens of different backgrounds. The government has also done its part to stimulate healthy interaction between members of different cultural groups, for example allocating a designated quota of different racial groups that are allowed to occupy a block of Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, Singapore’s most common mode of housing. With constant interaction and deeper insights into the different cultures, Singapore has truly created a culturally-acceptive atmosphere that will most certainly continue to permeate even the latest of generations.

These advantages are undoubtedly the results of the painstaking efforts of the government and other political parties that have ensured that cultural variety does not degenerate into cultural revulsion. Indeed, the presence of cultural diversity and the resulting need to manage the associated benefits and problems are tricky issues that make the government stronger and more capable of tackling any future diversions that may head their way. As much as globalization brings about a homogenizing effect that blends the world into a landscape of uninspiring cultural similarity, minority groups will almost always be present, and it is of utmost importance that these groups are not marginalized and unrepresented in the political front. In fact, the presence of a strong, or fair political showing in the Parliament by members of the minorities are usually indications of a healthy political scene that takes into consideration the welfare of all different kinds of citizens, and is not merely concerned with meeting the needs of the majority.

The presidential campaign of the United States (US) candidate, Obama, is considered by many to be revolutionary, a change that may completely transform the face of the US, and even global politics. Being an African-American, he is their representative and spokesperson. Should he be elected as President of the United States, it is almost expected that this group will be given its fair share of the spotlight in political debates, and that its welfare will be treated with much more respect than before. Closer to home, the Singaporean political scene already has established members of different backgrounds and races, representing the four major groups in Singapore. It is a system that has helped Singapore achieve economic and social prosperity following its independence in 1965, and is a prime example of how governments can be strengthened by cultural diversity.

Despite the many advantages that a diverse society can bring to the table, some naysayers continue to believe that a homogeneous society is the answer to the elimination of social and cultural tension. Yet, in their naïve belief that creating a community of people with the same background and the same belief system is key to harmony and the solution to problems arising from diversity, they forget that what needs to take place first if the elimination of the minority: Hitler ‘cleansed’ the world of Jews in the WWII and Rwanda is entangled in the bitter civil war between two of the biggest tribes, each vowing to exterminate the other. The loss of human lives calls into question the perceived ‘benefits’ of homogenization, and the uninformed belief that a homogeneous society has more to offer than that of a diverse one. With careful planning and management, I believe that having a culturally diverse society will give countries a much needed edge in the increasingly globalised future.

Topic

Discrimination

Question

“It is definitely more advantageous to be a diverse society than a homogeneous one.” Discuss.

Writer

Audrey Lim, 07A11

School

VJC

It is the first century, and globalization is, or rather has been for a few years now, all the rage. Cultures are being dissipated all over the world, encouraged by the advancements in technology that would have left our ancestors absolutely lost in amazement. People are travelling worldwide thanks to the ease and affordability of transportation, going to places previously unexplored and settling down in countries they would never have dreamt of. It is in this context then, that I would assert that a diverse society, being a product of the above-mentioned trends would be more advantageous than a homogeneous one. This so-called advantage might be understood in terms of the benefits, socially, economically and politically, that it confers upon the society itself, allowing it to eventually better weather the forces of globalization today and make itself continually poised to tackle the future of uncertainty.

The diverse society might firstly be interpreted as one which, through welcoming the inflow of foreigners from all over the world, has become a place in which both the native citizens of the country and the people hailing from countries abroad work and live together on common land. In such a case, the diverse society might be said to be more advantageous than one which has remained close to outsiders in that it is able to benefit from the different set of skills that these very foreigners bring with them. A clear example of this would be Singapore, which, through incentives from the government, finds itself to be a very attractive place to foreigners. People come not only to impart their specialized skills, such as research in the biomedical industry, but also to add weight to our work force and help take on jobs that most Singaporeans might spurn. Examples are Bangladeshi workers in the construction industry and the Chinese waiting on tables at hawker centres. In this instance, a diverse society, consisting pf people who bring with them their wealth of knowledge as well as people willing to undertake otherwise unpopular tasks, would be more economically vibrant and viable than a homogeneous one.

In addition, a diverse society might be seen to be one in which minority groups are accepted and treated with respect, facing little or no discrimination and being allowed to live their lives as freely as the “majority”. In such a society, homosexuals, the disabled, and even the poor, who might not count strictly as the minority but would nevertheless often be marginalized, would be able to find their wants and needs being recognized and even met. Such a society would also find itself being the melting pot of people with varying religious beliefs, such as Buddhism, Christianity or Islam. In this case, a diverse society would be more advantageous than a homogeneous one, in that this accommodation of people of different beliefs, cultures and lifestyles, would allow for the growth of a tolerant and open populace, one that is mature enough to accept differences and live and unselfishly, in harmony with possibly radically different people.

Politically, a diverse society might be interpreted as one where alternative political views are allowed to be expressed, where people of conflicting political beliefs are allowed and even encouraged to engage with each other, where the word of the government is not simply tacitly accepted but instead challenged and argued against. In the United States for example, political parties abound and the variety of political beliefs and values can be seen in the recent presidential elections in which candidates such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain all appealed to different crowds due to the differences in their political assertions. A diverse society, in which there is constant dialogue and engagement with various political views, is thus more advantageous than a homogeneous one in which only one view is espoused and alternatives are not entertained; in such a society, the incumbent is always being questioned, forced to always be on his feet.

Yet, in some instances, diverse societies might be seen to be in fact less advantageous than homogeneous ones. One instance when this might be true would be where the very diversity of the society, in terms of cultures and beliefs, leads instead to the tearing of the social fabric holding society together, resulting in social problems and discrimination. In Indonesia, for example, the presence of different cultures of even the natives themselves has led to unhappiness for example on the part of the Acehnese, who, despite government efforts to increase their wealth and living conditions, constantly see themselves as being separate from the rest of Indonesia and, in fact, even seek to be a separate state. In Singapore too, the very welcoming of foreigners has led to much unhappiness among the locals who view these outsiders as competitors for jobs as well as university places. These thus show that to some extent, a diverse society in terms of people with different cultures and lifestyles might not be more advantageous than a homogeneous one.

Moreover, a diverse society in which alternative political views are encouraged and tolerated might experience political instability, with the government in power unable to garner enough support and respect of the people to be able to be effective in policy-making. This would lead to the inability of the society to progress, as alternative views and opposition voices constantly object to the government and prevent the improvement of people’s lives. However, despite these instances in which a diverse society might be less advantageous than a homogeneous one, I would still maintain that in general, the variety and openness accorded to a diverse society is more beneficial to the society itself, than homogeneity would be. This is so as the above mentioned disadvantages of a diverse society are not the norm, and in the light of today’s globalised and fast-changing world, the diverse society would undoubtedly be better able to position itself to accommodate these changes and to suitable adapt itself to the future.

Topic

Discrimination

Question

“Minorities always suffer!” Is this necessarily true in today’s world?

Writer

Amy Seow, 04S75

School

HCI

In any society, it is inevitable that there will be a minority population. Globalisation and the relentless progress of technology have combined to diminish the physical geographical boundaries of today’s world. Migration rates have increased, enabling heterogeneous societies to be established all over the world. Many minority populations lament the perceived discrimination and suffering they face in societies which cater to the majority for convenience’s sake. However, in the midst of their self-pity, they fail to recognize the myriad of opportunities and advantages available to them, by virtue of being the minority. Minorities do not necessarily always suffer as the onus is on them to turn their situation around and gain the upper hand.

Governments and authorities do institute policies which favour the majority simply because it is more convenient to do so. However, if the minority are able to harness their community spirit and work around the system, they are the ones who stand to benefit. In Malaysia, the Chinese make up a relatively large racial minority, constituting 15% of the population. Yet, the Malaysian government has insisted that the school curriculum be taught in Bahasa Melayu, including subjects such as Science and Mathematics. The Chinese are deprived of the opportunity to learn their native tongue, and have to grapple with a foreign language. Their community leaders recognize the value of preserving the Chinese language among future generations, and hence, set up Chinese community schools which have produced trilingual students proficient in English, Chinese and Bahasa Melayu. As a result, the Chinese have an upper hand in language skills. Now that the Malaysian government is back-pedaling on its language policy and introducing subjects taught in English, Chinese students have an advantage and are able to outshine Malay students. As such, minorities are not necessarily constrained by rigid, unfriendly policies as they prove themselves to be resourceful enough to transcend such restrictions to turn the tables on the majority.

Governments will implement policies that protect the minority, because it is the majority who will re-elect the government in democratic societies. This shortsighted concept would lead to a well-fed, complacent majority, and allow the hungry dissatisfied minority to exploit the situation and succeed. The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir, implemented the ‘bumiputra’ or ‘princes of the land’ policy during his tenure. This policy gave Malays priority when entering universities, starting businesses, owning land and a whole host of other processes. His aim was to give the native ‘princes of the land’ a head-start in life, and ensure they would have a comfortable livelihood. Naturally, the implementation of this policy led to the disgruntlement of many Chinese. Meanwhile, the Malays were content and satisfied that their government would provide for them, and settled back to enjoy their blissful lives. The discrimination spurred the Chinese to work even harder than before, and gave them a strong motive to succeed. They grabbed whatever remnant opportunities the complacent Malays had passed on, and made the best of them. In present day Malaysia, it is common knowledge that the richest and most successful people are the Chinese. Dr. Mahathir himself has expressed regret at the implementation of his myopic policy, and before stepping down in 2003, slammed the Malays for their lack of hunger and desire to succeed. Therefore, for minorities, the suffering, prejudice and discrimination they face can be a form of motivation to improve their lot in society.

Although governments and societies tend to favour the majority, most want to be seen as tolerant and accepting of diversity. Nobody likes to be accused of discrimination. Minority populations could exploit this potential source of embarrassment, and manipulate government policy and societal perception to be more considerate and pliable toward them. In France, a Muslim schoolgirl was vehement in her fight to be able to wear her Muslim headscarf to school. She saw it as an expression and celebration of her faith. Muslims are a religious minority in predominantly Catholic France. Her story attracted international attention, and placed France in the glare of the media spotlight. It was revealed that while the Muslim girl was not allowed to wear her headscarf to school, practitioners of other faiths were not permitted to accessorise themselves with such open displays of their faith either. However, France was desperate to maintain an esteemed profile in the eyes of the world. Neither the French government or the French people wanted to be seen as intolerant and elitist, and the French courts finally relented and allowed the girl to wear her headscarf to school. Therefore, minority groups can leverage on the media-consciousness of most governments to secure recognition of their rights.

Minority populations can find safety in numbers by banding together to establish communities with strong bonds among members. This will lead to the forging of community spirit, and create a heartwarming enclave that gives support and strength to its members. Homosexuals are a sexual minority in the human race. They have long been discriminated against by proponents of ‘family-first’ movements, Bible-toting Christians, and anybody and everybody who finds their behaviour unnatural. However, in San Francisco, America, homosexuals have established their very own community, to create an environment where all its members can feel comfortable in, and engage in their activities without fear of hate crimes and discrimination. They organize Mardi Gras parties, and celebrate their diversity, providing protection and support for all its members.

Unfortunately, minorities still remain an easy target for violence and discrimination. It is easy for the majority to band together and blame the minority for a myriad of perceived crimes. This sad story has repeated itself many times in history, from the farms of the American Southwest to the ghettoes and slums of Nazi Germany. Most recently, it has emerged in Singapore, when junior Minister Balaji Saladisavan blamed homosexual man for the AIDS scourge. It is sad that such discrimination and intolerance still exist, but it is likely that as society matures as a whole and accepts heterogeneity as a mark of a progressive community, minorities will not be prejudiced against and hated, but rather welcomed and celebrated.

Minorities do have a historic legacy of discrimination, and in some instances it continues to this very day. Yet, they must use their own resourcefulness, diligence and quick wit to be able to turn their situation into an advantage. The oppression and discrimination showered on them should only serve to motivate and spur them on to succeed.

Topic

Discrimination

Question

How far do you agree that men are more discriminated against than women in modern society?

Writer

Xu Kaixian, 04S64

School

HCI

Modern society is one that emphasizes meritocracy and equal rights for all. Today, women in many parts of the world enjoy much parity in treatment an opportunities. Women, now, have the right to vote, and the right to be educated. It is also common to have highly-educated women taking up senior executive positions in corporations. And women, too, are increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with in politics. All this, some people would have us believe, has been achieved at the expense of men’s rights. The sad reality is that all women, even those in developed societies, still suffer from discrimination, though obviously in varying degrees, which most men conveniently ignore.

It is undeniable that men do indeed suffer some forms of discrimination. For example, in a divorce case, the judge would most likely grant the mother the custody of the child unless the mother is a criminal or is mentally unstable. The justification for this is that “it is in the best interest of the child” as mothers are considered better at bringing up children, especially the younger ones. This is a gross generalization, and is one obvious example of discrimination against males. After all, a mother-headed family is often far from ideal. One of the main causes of child abuse is the presence in the home of a boyfriend or step-father. Fathers can be good parents too.

Worldwide, as more women are choosing to postpone childbearing, many governments in Asia, Europe and America are giving out longer maternity leave to encourage more mothers to give birth. In Singapore, for example, mothers are entitled to longer maternity leave, but what about the fathers? Many fathers want to be involved in family affairs too. Should not they be given paternity leave so that they can take care of their children too? In Norway, fathers are entitled to 9-months paternity leave, but in most countries, fathers are not entitled to such benefit. And yet, they have to take care of their families.

In addition, well-groomed males are described somewhat derisively as metrosexuals, and fathers who choose to stay at home to take care of their children are often badmouthed. Where are their rights to groom themselves? To make choices? After all, no one laughs at mothers who choose not to work. No one laughs at women who go to spas or seek beauty treatment.

Indeed, men do suffer some forms of discrimination in today’s society. However, in my opinion, these are only minor forms of discrimination found only in developed countries. In many developing countries, women continue to be suppressed. Even in developed countries, the lot of a woman is less enviable compared to that of the male: archaic social expectations of women and the existence of a glass ceiling are common forms of discrimination that continue to plague women.

Although much parity has been achieved in our modern society, women are still expected by society to adhere to the traditional roles of women. In Singapore, for example, society still expects women to aspire to get married, give birth and be mothers. Even as more women enter the workforce, married women who choose not to give birth are often criticized and pressured to reverse their decisions by society. Even in democratic America, First Ladies are expected to fit into the traditional moulds and abstain from any involvement in politics. Hillary Clinton, the former US First Lady, was lambasted for heading the National Health Care Task Force. She and Eleanor Roosevelt, before her, were criticized for expressing their views and taking part in politics. Where are their rights to freedom of speech? Even Tipper Gore, the wife of former vice-president Al Gore, was lambasted for speaking out against violent and pornographic music lyrics in 1985.

Politically, although women make up more than half of the population, women are still under-represented. Presently, women only make up 21.7% of all legislative seats globally. Indeed, influential women politicians like Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Condolezza Rice and Gloria Arroyo do exist, but they only make up a minority. And many, like Gloria Arroyo and Sonia Gandhi are able to hold so much power merely because of their families who were previously active in politics. It is heartening to see developing countries like Afghanistan making headways in granting women equal rights. Afghanistan, for example, voted for their first female provincial governor in the recent polls. The new Cabinet even has three female ministers. Sadly, such cases are merely isolated ones. Domestically, while we have ten female Members of Parliament, only two are Ministers of State, and none are full ministers. Clearly, women are still seen as less competent politicians by society even when women have the same or high educational qualifications than their male counterparts.

Economically, while equal rights to pay and work have been largely achieved in the developed world, women still earn much less than men even if they have the same qualifications. In Singapore, for example, 2003 statistics show that women earned an annual income of US$15,322, while men earned an annual income of US$31,927. In addition, although women are becoming increasingly highly educated, the presence of glass-ceilings denies women the right to attain higher positions. In Singapore, for example, only 6% of the top local companies have at least one female director. In comparison, 60% of the top 1000 companies in USA have at least 1 female director. In many countries too, granting of flexible working arrangements and maternity leave is given lip service and many women continue to be sacked when they are pregnant. Needless to say, in developing countries, the situation is worse. Women are often confined to the house and denied the right to work. Hence, women often make up more than half of those living in extreme poverty.

In today’s modern society where the emphasis is on equality for all, society has made much improvement in terms of granting equal rights to women. In this rush to achieve sexual parity, it is undeniable that this improvement has been achieved sometimes as the expense of men. However, it is important to note that such discrimination against men are relatively insignificant. Women, worldwide, continue to suffer far greater forms of discrimination socially, politically and economically. Whether it is in Asia, Africa or America, too many women in too many countries still suffer in silence. To claim therefore that men are “more discriminated against” than women in modern society is therefore nothing short of ludicrous.

Topic

Discrimination

Question

“The fight for gender equality is no longer important in today’s society.” Discuss.

Writer

Cheryl Julia Lee, CG 02/08

School

TJC

Gender equality has evolved from an ideology during the time of the famed Rosa Parks to a massive human rights movement today. The movement that took the world by storm has borne many fruits, and society has made clear progress in this aspect. The significant achievements in this field and the widespread acknowledgement of gender equality have led to a slowing down of the once fervent race. The reducing number of protests, placard marches and campaigns has raised a doubt in the minds of many. Perhaps, today, in a world as developed as the one we lie in, gender equality and the fight for it is no longer important. They are wrong. Gender equality, and the fight for it, is still, if not more, important today, than it was in the past.

Indeed, the fight for gender equality has won many battles. The suffrage movement won rights for women all across the globe. It not only increased the value of women in society, it did the same to a woman’s sense of self-worth. The suffrage movement revealed many injustices and sought rectification and compensation. It demanded equal playing fields for both sexes, sending ripples through the many patriarchal societies. It brought education to women, a right now largely recognized, and allowed women to contribute to society. Besides raising a woman’s status, it also raised a woman’s esteem and notion of self-worth.

The fight also showed considerable results in the working world, which was largely dominated by males. The fight for gender equality has decimated glass ceilings in jobs across the spectrum, allowing women to take on higher positional jobs. It awarded women equal opportunities, with many companies now functioning on the system of meritocracy. Today, more than 30% of high position jobs are occupied by women, compared to less than 2% in the 80s.

In the political arena, a once largely male-dominated as well, Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton are among the few women charging head-on into a once foreign field. Hilary Clinton ran against Barack Obama in the Democratic elections in 2008, matching him state-to-state until the end. Clinton is a stellar example of how women can contribute more than their two cents worth. Despite losing to Obama, Clinton continues in the political game, aiding the Democratic representative in the Presidential Elections against John McCain. The fight for gender equality has opened up many doors, managing to even allow women to take a slice of the political pie.

The success of the fight is apparent. However, today, many are questioning if maybe enough doors have been opened for women, and whether the importance of the fight has disappeared. This may ring true for developed countries, but for developing countries which are still far lacking in resources, and the courage to take on an idea seen as absurd to some, or dangerous to others, women are still at the losing end. It is only because the developed countries refuse to acknowledge this fact that it appears as if the fight for gender equality has outlived its welcome.

In strict Muslim societies such as Afghanistan and Iran, backward traditions and mentalities hinder the countries’ growth. In the former, statistics have shown that less than 10% of the reported cases of rape have received justice. Ridiculous clauses, such as requiring at least two adult male witnesses willing to support the rape claim, prevent many cases from even gaining access to a court hearing. This injustice has long plagued the country, with little being done to rectify it. However, this problem is also the reason for Afghanistan’s ‘uncivilised’; laws, which prevent it from gaining a good standing on the international level. This could lead to a stagnant economy, or even worse, a stagnant economy trapped in the dogmatic principles of the past.

In the economic domain, developed countries are no exceptions. The perception that a male has more value than a female runs deep in countries like India and China. Both countries are, today, facing an imbalanced sex ratio, that of China being one female to every 1.6 males. In China’s case, the one-child policy is the main culprit. Set during revolutionary days, the one-child policy allows each family to have only one child, or two, in special cases. While this was done to combat the problem of a population growing faster than its country could support, it has brought along with it many problems. In both countries, infanticide ranks high on the causes of infant deaths. The desire for a more ‘valuable’ male offspring has led to increased abortion rates and cases of baby girls being abandoned. The imbalance in the sex ratio also has many serious repercussions. It has been linked to increased crime rates, with men unable to find a bride, resorting to kidnapping, buying or trafficking women to fulfill their needs for companionships or carnal desires. A largely unmarried society could ironically lead to the downfall of the family unit, a component of society valued by Asians. High migration rates could lead to a drastic fall in the working population, in turn resulting in a weakened economy.

It is age-old outdated views, captured in equally old saying such as ‘Eighteen goddess-like daughters are not equal to one son with a hump’, that still call for the fight for gender equality to continue. Statistics like that fact that women make up 60% of South Korean graduates but constitute less than 25% of the working force only compound the problem. Crusaders of this mission have yet to fully spread their message, with only larger communities benefitting. Besides the fact that the ‘cease-fire’ could bring repercussions such as the ones faced by China and India, the fight for gender equality is also, above all, a stunning example of human spirit. Just like the heart warming stories of Chinese natives who went out of their way to help their fellow men after the Sichuan earthquake, the fight for gender equality tore social theories such as social Darwinism to bits. It displays human compassion in a dog-eat-dog world, where the more fortunate gives to their less fortunate counterparts. Philosophers like Charles Darwin believed that Man is born selfish. The continued fight for gender equality proves otherwise.

In conclusion, gender equality, and the fight for it, is still very important today. It will help to level unequal playing fields, giving women a voice and a place in society. It will not only o down in history as a revolution that caused old systems to fall, and new, stronger ones to rise, it will also display the full capacity of the human spirit, with both men and women, spanning the various races, jobs and social standing, joining in the biggest human rights movement of all time.

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