How Youths Can Help Gender Equality in Asia

By Jade Kong


Asia performs incredibly diversely on the UN’s gender inequality index (GII), which measures gender inequality in three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment, and the labour market. But the index does admit its limitations–each metric includes various indicators, such as female-male parliamentary seat share, labour force participation rates, and maternal mortality ratio. This means one thing: there is always room for improvement. There is no ceiling for equality; it is a fight that cannot end.  


The youth are the future. Informing and empowering them to advocate for human rights issues, like gender equality, is pivotal towards the forward progression of society. 


The two-day SAMA Festival saw speeches and panel discussions from the leaders behind established organisations fighting for gender equality across Asia. They shared their experiences in advocacy and insights on how best to move towards achieving gender equality in the future. Ultimately, the discourse all boils down to this: how can youths in Asia best contribute to the efforts of gender equality?


Festival Day 1


The festival’s opening day was kick-started by a keynote speech from Corrina Lim, a prominent women’s rights activist. It was followed by a panel discussion with various spokeswomen, which tackled broad strokes of the fight for gender equality in Singapore 


Keynote Speech

Corinna Lim, the executive director of Singapore’s leading women’s rights organisation, AWARE, kicked off the festival on a strong note with a keynote speech on AWARE’s mission and work. 


Her speech outlined the end goals of gender equality: economic equality, equal education, equal distribution of unpaid housework, an end to gender-based violence, equal access to healthcare, and the equal distribution of power. 


Singapore’s achievements thus far in its fight for gender equality include the right to education: today, more Singaporean women than men graduate from university. Nonetheless, there are still pressing gender equality issues in Singapore, notably concerning invisible labour. The caregiver burden, reinforced by traditional gender roles and an ageing population, disproportionately falls on women, leading to them withdrawing from the workforce. This is further exacerbated by an across-the-board gender pay gap of 16.3% and a discrepancy in senior job positions.


Corinna also discussed patriarchy’s effects on men. For instance, gender roles, such as the notion that only men are capable of heading the household, are harmful to everyone–both imposing this expectation of full control on men, and suppressing the voices of women.


Tearing apart such deeply-rooted patriarchal ideals and taking action when unjust norms and violence are enacted, are all part of dismantling the patriarchy–a phrase that has been the slogan for feminist movements across the globe.


On Mindset Shifts


Mindset shifts need to begin from the youth. In her speech, Minister of State Ms Sun Xueling emphasised that sustained efforts are needed for different audiences, especially the older generation. The focus will always be on internalising messaging and erasing unconscious bias, so we can tackle gender inequality from its root. 


Day 1 Panel: Youth’s Role in Women Development in Singapore

The panel discussion for Day 1 tackled Singaporean perspectives on gender equality with local issues.


When asked about their personal niche of feminism, Priscilla spoke about connecting female professionals to young girls and Kelley talked about supporting women in workplaces. Pei Ling talked about gender-based discrimination in politics, while Apoorva conveyed her passion for the need for equal education for women.


The White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development


The White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development is the first comprehensive review of women’s development in Singapore, motivated by Singapore’s desire to push forth on the ideals of a fairer society.


Apoorva spoke on AWARE’s contribution to the policy wishlist, and their comprehensive Omnibus on Gender Equality, which addresses all facets of women’s issues, including gender roles and anti-discrimination legislation for women.


Pei Ling discussed her division’s recommendations to the parliament, which include making workplaces more inclusive and equipping women for the digital future, and the recent legalisation of egg-freezing slated to begin in 2023, which provides women with more and better choices in their lives.




Apoorva talked about how entrenched mindsets manifest as discrimination and inequality in the real world. Women, following rigid gender roles, take on the caregiving load, leading to maternity discrimination and unpaid caregiving labour. Age-old assumptions, such as female leadership being soft and edge-cutting, cause real-world behaviours that alienate women: non-verbal brush-offs, the concept of big boy’s tables, and sexual jokes made at the expense of women. 


Role Modelling


Role modelling was a focal point in the panel discussion. With women in positions of leadership, young girls have role models that they can aspire towards, but more importantly, show them that glass ceilings are surpassable.


It is evident that girls shy away from certain careers due to a lack of confidence. Priscilla’s organisation, Inspiring Girls, facilitates multigenerational connections between young girls and female industry professionals. In a process called reverse-mentoring, illustrious professionals gain insight into the younger generation’s outlook through their interactions. When conceptions of gender equality change through mutual learning, generational shifts occur. 


Role-modelling can also take the form of male allyship. Supporting female employees when they are doubted by clients for gender-related reasons and victims of workplace sexual harassment, rather than writing it off or retaliating, are examples of upstanding behaviours of a male ally.




Feminism is not exclusive to the corporate sphere. Marginalised women who bear the intersectional tolls of gender inequality and other forms of discrimination (such as race or poverty) suffer in ways that must be addressed distinctly.


Pei Ling raised the topic of single mothers, who often abandon their aspirations when the reality of life settles in. However, their challenges are not a product of choice, but circumstance. Priscilla also brought up foreign domestic workers: women not included in the White Paper despite their pivotal role in Singapore. Beholden to their employers, who hold all power to deploy or deport them and without protection under worker’s rights, they are a key demographic crippled by inequality. We cannot ignore these women in our fight for gender equality, and more has to be done for them.


She also highlighted that tokenism is not needed in Singapore’s fight for gender equality. We want to talk about women’s development and rights openly, rather than standing up to individual instances of inequality, to fix a fundamentally unequal system.


Festival Day 2 

The second day of the festival commenced with UWS Boys Singapore’s Georgette Tan’s talk on healthy masculinity and preventing sexual violence. The panel discussion took a larger pan-Asiatic perspective with speakers from organisations from Hong Kong to India discussing youth activism. 


On Healthy Masculinity


Georgette Tan talked about issues such as domestic violence in Singapore that are pervasive in society and entrenched in unhealthy masculinity– which does not solely affect women. Male suicides outnumbering female suicides, for example, is a glaring indication that the conception of masculinity is problematic and in extreme instances, fatal. 


UWS aims to engage boys of all backgrounds to redefine male stereotypes and advocate for healthy concepts of manhood, empowering them to be able to interrupt abusive peers and prevent abuse. Discouraging violence and promoting other means to convey emotion, as well as introducing them to role models that exhibit healthy masculinity, is just one step towards changing mindsets about masculinity, and preventing gender-based violence.


Day 2 Panel: Regional Perspectives on Youth Activism in Asia

The panel discussion on day 2 revolved around the broader topic of youth’s role in championing gender equality in Asia.


The panellists were once again asked: What inspired the feminist in you? Answers included the lack of female substantive leaders in India from Aadya, to uplifting not just women, but also men and non-binary people from Nisha. Natalie also discussed supporting and uplifting indigenous women and harnessing the compassion of women to solve greater problems. 


The Power of Youth 


As a youth activist, having a seat at the table is a major competitive advantage as your outspokenness and ability to stand up and mobilise are valued. According to Natalie, youth representation has become a must-have in national and international organisations, as their presence amidst a table full of experts of older generations gives the younger generation a medium to voice opinions on our future.


Nisha and Aadya discussed the limitations of organising physical activism, which takes time and money. Hence, the rise of social media activism uplifts those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds by providing them with resources to actively participate. Nisha also suggested that youths be given more resources from school to participate in activist work, which can aid in removing the stigma around activism. 


Quantifying Impact


On the topic of financial sustainability, Nisha talked about the importance of not compromising on your original purpose in pursuit of funding but rather seeking out sponsorships with corporations dedicated to the same cause. Pearline also suggested encouraging welfare to mobilise more volunteers.


Long-term investors, resources, and funding all come from quantifiable results. How do you put your activism into numbers?


V’air utilises pre and post-surveys, as well as action pledges to quantify people’s understandings of concepts and values, while safeNUS turns to technical means to measure impact: views, comments, and followers. However, it boils down to how many volunteers are committed to the cause and willing to retain their efforts. When asked about the opportunity cost that comes with impact measurement, Natalie suggested using metrics to drive an organisation’s continuous improvement and expansion. 




The Day 2 panel also touched on intersectionality–as Aadya suggested, gender equality is an issue that stretches to every possible domain. Organisations must strike a balance between experience and diversity of thought, so as to take note of certain complexities and take care of groups that may fall through the cracks.


That’s why it is important to never assume anything. Instead, putting lived experiences and marginalised groups in the limelight to speak and act for themselves is the right way to go. Constantly analysing impact, as well as having focus groups with beneficiaries, are among some of the ways we can put these intersectional identities at the forefront. 


Global Activism


Activists around the world are unified by their fight for a common cause–but how do they work together? Nisha suggested the concept of global student resources. Demographics vary globally, and we can only enact change if the needs of society are understood, and thus initiatives and resources can be adjusted to each organisation’s different goals. Though there are clear, specific, differences in each activist project, there are always commonalities that can be reused. By creating concrete information bases, a global activist network could form the backbone of modern-day activism.


So as youths, what can we do?


Corinna’s answer is to start with yourself. Re-assessing stereotypes and ideas you’ve grown up with and acting upon these changes in yourself and your communities is a small but vital step. Moreover, lobbying for better sex education programmes in schools and movements against toxic masculinity are also ways to help.


You can take concrete steps, as per Apoorva’s suggestion: inviting speakers to schools, volunteering, or writing forum letters to local newspaper publications. Pei Ling emphasised the youth’s ability to change mindsets by calling out bad behaviours. 


To have your voices heard by the public and the government, the Day 1 panellists agreed that change must come from the top, while the Day 2 panellists came to a consensus that youths should step out of their comfort zones to prompt gender equality and fairness for everyone. Not everyone needs to lead a movement–you can always support initiatives and volunteer if you truly do believe in it. In a room full of big players, it’s easy to be intimidated, but the power of youth should never be undermined.

Wang Yuxuan, Director of Tech

Wang Yuxuan is the Director of Tech of SAMA. His main passions lie in the fields of Mathematics and Computer Science. During his high school days, he was notably part of the Singapore Math Olympiad National Training Team. He also has 4-5 years of experience in programming, and is fluent in 2 programming languages (Python and C++). He has a strong belief in the power of technology, and his dream is that one day, technology can be made accessible on a large scale to address the various challenges faced by disadvantaged groups in society.

Tahamina Abdul, Director of Editorial/Content

Tahamina Abdul is the Director of Editorial/Content of SAMA. She is currently a freshman in Nanyang Technological University, where she will be pursuing a degree in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering. She is passionate about the sciences and female representation in these spaces. Her interest in gender advocacy stems from her own firsthand experiences with the different obstacles and difficulties that women in STEM face. While studying at NUS High, she attained SSEF Bronze for her team’s research project with the National University of Singapore’s Department of Microbiology & Immunology. Outside of STEM, she enjoys film & literature, and feeds on Substack pop culture critiques. 

Jeriel Tan, Director of Publicity

Jeriel is the Director of Publicity at SAMA. He is a final year student at the National University of Singapore majoring in Psychology. As a former member of the NUS Political Association’s flagship Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum and the current member of CAPE’s (Community for Advocacy and Political Education) Publicity team, he fights for independent political literacy and believes that more can be done, through the efforts of pragmatic resistance. After attending multiple seminars which include politicians from various parties, civil societies and advocates, he is inspired by the sincere non-partisan concerns and efforts from all the stakeholders in our political climate. He believes that regardless of gender, it is fundamental for all to be treated with equal respect, rights and opportunities. No one should feel inadequate because of it. In his free time, he enjoys hunting for good hawker food. 

Yu Jingrong, Director of Corporate/Fundraising

Yu Jingrong is the Director of Corporate/Fundraising of SAMA. With a keen interest in the math and sciences, she loves handling data. Back in junior college at River Valley High School, she was part of both the Math and Science Leaders Academy. She was also the Runner-Up for the 2021 Singapore Statistics Competition organised by the National University of Singapore. Outside of work, her weekly volunteering sessions with the CDAC reaffirms her desire to contribute to the community and raise awareness for causes that resonate with her. While she received undergraduate offers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and New York University (NYU), she is now studying Medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

Ryan Vinit Bharathan, Director of Art

Ryan Vinit is the Director of Art of SAMA. Growing up under the influence of strong, ambitious and independent women has taught them the importance of gender advocacy. During their years at Raffles Institution, they were Art/Creative Director of ConnectTheDOTs, a project aiming to raise awareness for financially challenged women. They also conducted a research project on gender equality and sexual harassment among Singaporean youths for their A Level Project Work, eventually providing a comprehensive recommendation to improve on the national Sexuality Education syllabus here. They especially love the work of feminist artists like Sophie Xeon and Mj Rodriguez. They currently sell prints at @thehouseofvinit on Instagram!

Bao Ruoyun, Vice-President

Bao Ruoyun is the Vice-President of SAMA. An incoming freshman at Fudan University in Shanghai, she will be majoring in International Relations, on the Shanghai Government Scholarship. Having come from Nanyang Girls’ High School and spending her schooling years in an all-female environment, she has met many strongly passionate individuals who have made her more aware of and interested in gender advocacy. Back in junior college at Hwa Chong Institution, she spearheaded publicity efforts for Gracehaven, a beneficiary for the Salvation Army Singapore and worked with children-at-risk groups. She enjoys kayaking and coaching her juniors from Hwa Chong Canoeing in her free time.

Isabella Ren, Vice-President

Isabella Ren is the Vice-President of SAMA. She will be studying Business Analytics at the National University of Singapore, as a NUS Merit Scholar. An avid baker and ex-treasurer for the Hwa Chong Canoeing team, she spearheaded the Oats Project, going the extra mile back in junior college to cook oats for her team weekly and promote a culture of nutrition. A literary enthusiast too, she is inspired by feminist writing and female literary figures, and loves spreading her pasion for literature through tutoring. She enjoys reading classics and kayaking in her leisure time. 

Shaun Loh, Founder & President

Shaun Loh is the Founder and President of SAMA. Raised by a single mom, witnessing her economic struggles during his formative years led to his interest in gender advocacy. He started volunteering at AWARE in 2019, where he contributed research on Muslim women’s rights to AWARE’s 2021 Omnibus Gender Equality Report. He also contributed research and editorial efforts to AWARE’s Support, Housing and Enablement (SHE) Project for single moms. While studying at Raffles Institution, he co-founded ConnectTheDOTs, a project that raised more than $7500 for financially challenged women through 2 Women’s Month and Mother’s Day book sales with Ethos Books. Passionate about the Middle East and Southeast Asia, he struggles with Arabic in his free time, and is most inspired by youth-led initiatives across these two regions.