Self Empowerment
With International Women’s Day falling on Mar 8 every year, the month of March is an excellent time to commemorate the centuries-old efforts by women to gain equal rights as men, to mark how far women have progressed from the oppressiveness of medieval times and earlier.

Celebrating the modern woman

Now, with most women enjoying equal voting rights as men and unprecedented economic and political opportunities, there has never been a more empowering time to be a woman. To gain some insight into the roles and challenges of being a modern woman, we speak to Ms Constance Singam and Ms Tenley D Peterson, President and Manager of Public Education & Public Relations respectively, of Singapore’s best-known women’s rights association AWARE (Association of Women for Åction and Research).
Can you share with us what it takes to be a woman in these modern times as compared to our mothers and grandmothers?
Constance: Modern women work much longer hours than before; demands of and stress in the workplace have never been higher. In spite of this, we have much to thank our mothers and grandmothers for. They taught us the value of education, how to be financially independent, so that we will not have to suffer the constraints and obstacles they faced and can enjoy more choices in our careers, our lives.
Tenley: The modern woman definitely has many more opportunities than her mum or grandmother. She was raised to believe in herself, her worth and potential, and explore career opportunities that were not available to at-home moms of earlier generations.
Having to juggle work, life and family, how can the modern woman balance and nourish her mind and soul?
Constance: Women nowadays are more educated and well-read, they are more aware of health issues. They take heed of nutrition, they go to the gym and exercise, they know that a balanced lifestyle is important for wellbeing. Personally, I enjoy yoga, meditation, walking and reading. These allow me to keep calm, relaxed, fit, and also allow my mind to remain active.
Tenley: Everyday, I spend my 90 minute-commute reading to relax,distress, and pass time. I am a member of a book club, and I plan to join another as I really enjoy reading. I enjoy chatting with and catching up with peers and husband over topics like politics and current events. I’m taking a belly dancing class at my local CC which is really fun. I also like walking my two dogs.
Constance, as President of AWARE, what do you think is the biggest obstacle the modern woman will face in her life?

One of women’s biggest challenges is to achieve some semblance of balance in their increasingly hectic and packed life, filled with work, family and social commitments. It is immensely difficult to attain a happy balance, and feel at peace mentally, spiritually and physically instead of being overwhelmed by demands from all quarters.

Another challenge women need to face up to is to learn to speak up for themselves and not be shortchanged as human beings. They tend to avoid voicing too many demands and are very willing to make sacrifices for their loved ones, sometimes at the expense of themselves.

Can you tell us who has greatly inspired you to become what you are now?
Constance: Definitely my mother; she has been the greatest influence in my life. She taught me to be strong, self-reliant and independent, and always drilled into me the value of being financially independent as well. She also said it was important to have high standards and expectations, and to always be willing to demand equality.
Tenley: My mother gave up a full-time job to raise her children as best as she could. And now that we have all grown up and moved out, she got her Masters and is now very happy as an accountant. She always taught us to be more self-aware, to know ourselves well and be confident with who we were. She always said it was fine not to marry too young as sometimes, when you are too young, you do not understand yourself and your partner well enough to withstand the challenges of marriage. My father also inspired me because he never treated me differently because I am female, and always challenged me to be the best.
The only constant in this era is change. We face new challenges and have to cope with ever-shifting parameters and boundaries all the time, whether at work, at home, or socially. What advice do you have for women between 20 and 40 years old who are struggling to cope with these changes?
Constance: My advice to these women would be something practical. I would strongly encourage women to keep two financial accounts: a common account with the husband, and a separate, personal account to fall back on. Women must learn to take care of themselves and be accountable for their own finances. I would also advise women not to underestimate and under-value themselves. When tragedies strike, women cry but we have resilience and strong inner strength. We must believe that we can overcome any adversity. Just like women set high standards for ourselves to meet, we should also have high expectations of men. In a relationship, instead of always having one side give in, both sides need to compromise in order to reach a harmonious resolution.
Tenley: I think it is important for women to learn to be willing to speak up, to voice and clarify any doubts or issues they have. It is not wrong of us to demand equality, as it is through equal opportunities and experiences that we gain knowledge. And that will only serve to empower us further. Lastly, don’t be overly self-sacrificing. We deserve happiness, and we need t learn to fight for our own happiness, and not give it away willingly.
What advice do you have for women on how best to work towards a healthy and happy lifestyle?
Constance: I would say financial security is a key factor as it gives peace of mind and frees people up for other more worthy pursuits. They can then spend time to understand themselves better, learn their personal brand of philosophy and values, and then come to an awareness of who they are, their true identity.
Tenley: For those in a relationship, I would say it is important to set rules from the beginning of relationship. Be open about your expectations of each other, don’t just leave your choices to chance. Communication about roles and expectations have to be established from the onset of a relationship for that relationship to flourish.


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