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S’pore, Kazakhstan can cooperate on education, women empowerment, interfaith dialogue: Halimah

President Halimah Yacob receiving the title of Honorary Professor from Nazarbayev University president Shigeo Katsu on May 23, 2023. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN – Singapore and Kazakhstan can cooperate on common challenges in education, empowering women and interfaith dialogue, said President Halimah Yacob.

On Tuesday, Madam Halimah highlighted the three areas that the two countries can work together on during her speech at the Nazarbayev University, where she was conferred an honorary professorship.

“Despite our different national circumstances and developmental needs, there is scope for our countries to share experiences and work together on common challenges,” said Madam Halimah, who is on state visits to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

On education, she said both Singapore and Kazakhstan recognise the importance of life-long learning and skills upgrading for adults.

Nazarbayev University, for instance, offers its students job placements with industry partners to apply their skills in real-world settings, she noted.

Madam Halimah also highlighted the close connections between Nazarbayev University and the National University of Singapore.

The current dean of Nazarbayev University’s Graduate School of Public Policy is Professor Hui Weng Tat, a Singaporean who was seconded from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and has lived in Astana for almost eight years.

Madam Halimah encouraged more faculty and student exchanges between Singapore and Kazakhstan, saying this will “not only bring about greater people-to-people interactions but (also) facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practices”.

On empowering women, she said that while almost half of Singapore’s university graduates and about 30 per cent of its parliamentarians are women – higher than the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s average of 26.1 per cent – more can and needs to be done. The Inter-Parliamentary Union is an international organisation of national parliaments.

Madam Halimah added that Singapore’s government is working with employers and unions to strengthen fairness at the workplace, including through legislation.

“Beyond legislation and policies, a whole-of-society effort is needed to break gender stereotypes and shift mindsets,” she said.

Madam Halimah said she is heartened that Kazakhstan is one of the first Central Asian countries to establish a national entity to promote gender equality and increase the share of women at decision-making levels in executive, representative and judicial authorities by 2030.

“I welcome Kazakhstan to share its experience in women leadership development as this is an area of interest in Singapore too,” she added.

Another similarity that both countries share is that they are multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, she said.

“Social stability, cohesion, the integration and inclusion of diverse backgrounds within our society are key tenets of our social harmony,” she said.

Interfaith dialogues and friendships – such as those held by InterReligious Organisation (IRO) in Singapore – for people to share experiences, perspectives and to support each other in the practice of their faith are important, she said.

She welcomed Kazakhstan to contribute to the International Conference of Cohesive Societies, which Singapore hosted in 2019 and 2022 to promote interfaith and multicultural dialogue.

“At a time when many societies are becoming more polarised and divisive, it is even more critical to think about what unites us despite our differences, and improve the quality of our conversations, relationships and practice as we build more cohesive societies for the future,” she said.

Madam Halimah said Singapore-Kazakhstan relations date back to the central Asian country’s pre-independence days, when founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew first visited in 1991. This year is the 30th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between the two countries.

There has been a healthy exchange of visits between both sides over the last three decades, and a new generation of leaders is now advancing the relationship, she added.

On Monday, Madam Halimah called on Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and the leaders reaffirmed the warm and longstanding relations between both countries.

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Delighted to renew my friendship with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the Akorda Palace today. I had met President...

Posted by Halimah Yacob on Monday, May 22, 2023

President Tokayev is no stranger to Singapore, having served as a diplomat in the 1970s, she said.

She added that she welcomed his interest and efforts in fostering stronger exchanges between Central Asia and Asean.

“Our two regions are part of a broader Asia and we share a common interest in promoting peace and stability, without which economic growth and development cannot take place,” she said.

“It is also in our interest to work towards an open and inclusive regional architecture where all countries, big or small, have equal rights and can settle disputes peacefully.”

After the lecture, Madam Halimah met with some students, toured the university and was hosted to lunch by Nazarbayev University president Shigeo Katsu.

She will be travelling to Tashkent in Uzbekistan on Tuesday evening for the next leg of her state visit.