UN Women exits Singapore after 20 years of operations

A performance review and Singapore's rules for overseas fundraising apparently prompted UN Women to cease operations in the city-state. A new, locally-focused NGO has emerged to take its place in the fight for gender equality in Singapore.

Filipino domestic workers working in Singapore attending a workshop on finance training. Image: UN Women/Staton Winter
Filipino domestic workers working in Singapore attending a workshop on finance training. Image: UN Women/Staton Winter

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, better known as UN Women, has withdrawn its operations from Singapore.

A decision taken by the UN’s headquarters in New York means that the intergovernmental body no longer has official representation in the city-state to stand up for the rights of women.

An email from UN Women Singapore’s director to supporters in August last year, seen by Eco-Business, revealed that there were “several reasons” for UN Women’s pull-out from the city-state, but the main reason was Singapore’s rules for charitable fundraising.

The rules oblige Singapore’s civic society groups to ensure that no more than 20 per cent of funds raised go towards charitable causes overseas; the other 80 per cent must be channelled locally.

“Globally, the other national committees are not bound by similar rules,” the email read. “The decision came as a disappointment given that we had been working very hard to raise funds for UN Women.”

UN Women Singapore was informed by the UN’s headquarters that they were closing the Singapore entity in July 2019, and were given a week to wind the operation down.

The decision was appealed, backed by the Singapore Mission in New York and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but it was rejected. The group was given a two-month extension before ceasing operations as UN Women Singapore.

UN Women told Eco-Business that the decision to close the Singapore operation followed a restructure of its national committees worldwide to increase funding, and a performance review of all of its national committees.

The decision brings to an end 20 years of operations for the Singapore chapter of UN Women, which has a regional presence in countries including China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Thailand, its Asia Pacific headquarters.

A new chapter begins

With the support of Singapore’s Commissioner of Charities and the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the former UN Women Singapore entity has relaunched as a new organisation that focuses more on the interests of women in Singapore. It is called United Women Singapore.

“Given that both UN Women and the new organisation are ultimately working towards the same goal of gender equality, future collaborations remain a possibility,” the email read.

United Women Singapore informed its supporters that it intended to continue its work, and would invest more into local programmes.

“This will be made possible by that fact that we will not have to remit funds offshore in the future,” the email from UN Women Singapore director Madhavi Putcha, who is now director of United Women Singapore, read.

United Women Singapore’s mission is to advance gender equality, and build a pipeline of women leaders in Singapore and the region.

The group’s key projects include the Girls2Pioneers programme, which aims to help girls from disadvantaged backgrounds take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics in higher education to address gender inequality in the work force. A study by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower in January revealed that Singapore women are paid 6 per cent less than men.

UN Women told Eco-Business that it looked “forward to working with partners in Singapore in the future who wish to contribute towards UN Women’s mandate.”

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