By Kor Kian Beng
People's Action Party (PAP) Women's Wing veterans, like Mrs Angie Neo, who have worked for years behind the scenes yesterday received a big thank you from the party's chief, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
He was speaking to some 1,000 guests at a bash to mark the 20th anniversary of the women's wing at St James Power Station.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi and around 25 MPs joined in the celebrations.
Mrs Neo, 50, joined 15 years ago and had started out preparing refreshments and cleaning up after Meet-the-People sessions.
Today, she chairs the women's wing branch in the Tampines Changkat ward, mentors younger activists and helps MP Irene Ng with front-line work at Meet-the-People sessions.
Mr Lee highlighted the contributions of women activists like her.
'They work very hard in the background, gathering feedback, manning MPS, organising events, making sure everything works right. These are the unsung heroines that help the party to hold the ground and the party says a big thank you to all of them,' he said.
Mr Lee also paid tribute to three retired MPs, who launched the women's wing in July 1989 to draw more women into politics and identify potential leaders.
The trio were women's wing founding chairman and former senior minister of state Aline Wong, former acting minister for community development Seet Ai Mee and Dr Dixie Tan.
Dr Tan could not attend the event as she was in London for her daughter's graduation.
Mr Lee also took stock of the progress of the women's wing in the last two decades, chief among which was an increase in the number of women MPs from four in 1989 to 17 today.
Women MPs now make up 20 per cent of the 84 elected Members of Parliament. PAP Women's Wing chief Lim Hwee Hua has set a new target of 30 per cent, which she hopes to achieve 'gradually'.
Mrs Lim's appointment as Singapore's first woman minister on April 1 this year was another major milestone for the women's wing. She is a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, and Second Minister for Finance and Transport.
Yesterday, Mrs Lim said: 'We can aim for a 30 per cent share, or around 25 MPs in today's terms, but ultimately, we should aim to build the base of engagement and participation first.'
Ms Indranee Rajah, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC and chairman of the event's organising committee, also addressed the gathering.
She rebutted former Nominated MP Kanwaljit Soin's criticism of the women's wing, which was reported in The Straits Times yesterday.
Dr Soin said the women's wing was not a potent force and did not match the main party in its dominance and impact.
Ms Rajah said in response that the women's wing never intended to match the main party in dominance and impact.
'The women's wing is not in competition with the main party.
'The women's wing is the women's arm of the main party and we are a testament to the party's commitment to include women in the political process,' she said.
Her words struck a chord with Ms Sulasteri Sakinan, 28, who was attending her first women's wing event yesterday.
The kindergarten teacher said her friends had asked her why she was attending an event organised by 'old ladies'.
But yesterday's celebration helped her better understand the work and goals of the women's wing, Ms Sulasteri said.
'I think I should get my friends to join too,' she added.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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