Academic, politician and advocate for gender equality
Drawn to the young, independent Singapore, Hong Kong-born sociologist Aline Wong began lecturing at the University of Singapore in 1971. Her academic interests then were the changing family institution, women’s status and economic participation, population and urban studies. In books and research papers, she documented the rapidly changing society of Singapore, and especially the inequalities faced by women.
Aline's research on women factory workers and families in public housing while still a university don gave her a connection with the grassroots, paving the way for her entry into politics in 1984. At the general election that year, the People’s Action Party (PAP) successfully fielded Aline and two other women, thus ending the 14-year absence of women in Parliament.
Aline later explained that as she had always advocated for women’s participation in top-level decision-making, she could not possibly decline the invitation to enter the political fray. Plus, she saw it as an opportunity to press from within for the policy changes needed to tackle the inequalities and other problems faced by women.
As a backbencher from 1984 to 1990, Aline did precisely this. She, and the two other women members of parliament, called for an end to the remaining discriminatory laws, and for better childcare facilities, and part-time and other more flexible work arrangements, and so on.
In 1990, Aline was made Minister of State for Health, and in 1995 she was promoted to Senior Minister of State, and she was given the additional portfolio of Education. In the eight years she spent at the Ministry of Education, Aline raised the standards and improved provisions for special needs education and early childhood education, introduced a formal sex education programme to the school curriculum, and promoted arts education for the holistic development of children.
The PAP set up a Women's Wing in 1989 to increase the participation of women in politics, and Aline led it until she retired from politics in 2001. She then returned to academia as Professor of Sociology and Senior Advisor to President’s Office in the National University of Singapore (NUS).
From 2003 to 2007, Aline was Chairman of the Housing & Development Board (HDB), after which she became Academic Advisor in the President’s Office at SIM University. In 2010 she was appointed as Singapore's Representative for Women's Rights to the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.
In 2015, Aline was appointed by SIM University (UniSIM) as the first Female Chancellor in Singapore's educational history.
“If a sociologist is any good, he relates to his respondents as people, not as digits. This is not very different from what a Member of Parliament is doing.”