Holding diverse roles in society, women have been an integral part of Singapore’s history and have shaped our homes, schools, workplaces and communities through their leadership in various fields and industries.
Their successes have been possible with community support and government policy. Women in Singapore are valued, but more can be done to achieve their goals.
The feedback from a series of dialogues entitled “Conversations about the development of women in Singapore” forms the basis of a white paper with recommendations for the further progress of SG women.
Meet two women who share their personal paths of growth, passion and determination to break down barriers and pave the way for other women.
Fathima Zohra, 24, disability and mental health attorney, and full-time program manager, running hour
Better known for her Insta-Griff @ zoraaax6, the quadriplegic Fathima Zohra, who also goes from Zoe Zora, advocates inclusivity for the disabled. After she was paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident in 2017 and only had limited functions in her limbs, a whole new world of difficulties opened up for disabled people.
As a sporty young woman, part-time model and social media influencer, she became, in her own words, an “emotional, mental and physical wreck”.
When she finally came to terms with her condition, she found a new purpose – advocating for the disabled and educating the disabled about inclusion. Despite the chronic pain and side effects of her medication, the recipient of the Goh Chok Tong Enable Award 2019 gave her voice to various organizations.
She has made advocacy videos to raise awareness of people with disabilities in organizations like Make The Change, has raised funds for the SPD and the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore, and regularly lectures at peer support groups.
She says, “The pain takes a huge toll on me, but I still work and stand up for my community because I know that one day there will be changes.”
What made you rise above your circumstances?
“After 20 years of physical performance, people no longer looked at me as if I was still a person, a woman. So I decided to fight for better representation. I don’t want a woman to ever feel the way I do as a disabled woman. “
What was the biggest obstacle you overcame?
“My fear of society’s judgment, having my disabled body out there. For example, when I’m at the gym people think why bother since I’m in a wheelchair. I want to question these social norms. Worrying about what people think of me doesn’t help me get out of bed, go to work, or do anything. I am very proud to be able to express myself for who I am. “
How can Singapore as a society better engage the disabled community?
“Singaporeans can be more understanding, friendly, and try to educate themselves by asking the right questions. See disabled women without pity and as people who can achieve as much as anyone else. “
Adriana Lim Escaño, through her fashion and lifestyle business Abry, helps those trying to keep jobs in difficult circumstances. PHOTO: BRENDAN ZHANG
Adriana Lim Escaño, 41, founder and CEO of Abry and co-founder of Mums for Life, a grassroots movement to celebrate a mother’s unique identity
The soon-to-be mother of four, a graduate and former merchandiser of the Central St. Martin College of Fashion & Design, used her professional background to found Abry in 2008, a fashion and lifestyle company that employs people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Older people and women struggling to find work due to discrimination and other social factors were the original catalysts. Today she is driven by a passion to help people who are trying to keep jobs under difficult circumstances.
She says: “This thing is important to me because when you get the chance you can shape your career and your life. I want to help provide these opportunities wherever possible. “
Through Abry, she has worked with various organizations to provide jobs or professional training for individuals. These include those at Crest Secondary School, a specialty school for normal technical students; Women from Daughters of Tomorrow, a registered charity that empowers disadvantaged women to gain financial independence; and mothers from low-income families who stay at home.
To ensure that their employees can earn a living while they take care of their families, they are offered flexible working arrangements in positions such as administration, logistics or sales. They also produce fashion accessories and Singapore-themed goods.
Going forward, she is considering further promoting flexi-work practices and creating a new platform where unemployed, marginalized mothers who stay at home or retrain people with disabilities can retrain and return to the workforce.
She adds, “I look at the progress made and remember that there is a purpose and that I ask for it, and I will follow the path that is illuminated for me.”
How do you strengthen your employees?
“I support 18 employees – women trying to raise families while balancing work, women whose husbands have lost their jobs, the elderly who have been laid off, and youth at risk. We value each individual, reaffirm their talents and encourage them to realize their dreams. “
What are the sacrifices you have made to stand up for your cause?
“I don’t think I made sacrifices in the true sense of the word. I enjoy what I do and I will be just as passionate about and supporting this cause to reaffirm each individual’s talent and dreams every day. Hiring people in less difficult circumstances can be easier. However, I believe that we can find creative solutions and work together. “
How do you switch work and family commitments?
“Self-refreshment and spouse support are critical. Family comes first, so I manage my work schedule around it. My greatest support comes from my husband, who has given me a lot of freedom to grow the company, business and Abry community. We also trained our children to be independent, with the older two (ages 10 and 7) helping out with tasks like washing clothes and dishes. “
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