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Evaluate the claim that equality of opportunity for females is a desirable but unrealistic view. (2016 A Levels Paper 1, QN 9)

In late 2017, globally acclaimed magazine National Geographic ran a cover story on the achievements of Jane Goodall, the highly respected primatologist who pioneered transformative and critically insightful research into the study of chimpanzees and their social capabilities, which are so akin to human societies. National Geographic, in recognising Goodall’s achievements, noted how she had to struggle in the early years of her career from the 1970s to 1990s to overcome the obstacles to her work imposed by a male-dominated work-culture and environment. In reviewing her story, many readers recognised and acknowledged how Jane Goodall’s journey from the margins of the scientific community to becoming one of the brightest stars in today’s constellation of research celebrities signifies that equality of opportunity for women today is increasingly possible. Despite the scepticism and queries posed by those who doubt the reality of equality for women, many of us will agree with the hope symbolised by the Jane Goodall narrative. Women today are increasingly gaining opportunities to excel in diverse fields, providing a much needed motive force to humanity in our march towards economic and social progress.

A common doubt expressed by the pessimistic regarding female empowerment finds its rationale in the continued denial of educational opportunities for women in the impoverished regions of the developing world. The dominant perspective for this narrative is found, so the skeptics assert, in diverse countries where patriarchal traditions and practices present obstacles to education for young girls and women. The usual list of countries where such practices take place would include India, Nepal and Bangladesh where unfortunately, male children are often preferred over female children. In these societies, the former are deemed as being of greater economic and social worth by parents in conservative rural regions and communities, leaving the latter – female children – to be deprived of educational opportunities when poverty and scarce monetary resources compel parents to exclude female children from obtaining even basic literacy or primary school education. Indeed, given this bleak picture, it is difficult for us to deny the skeptics of female empowerment: the shackles of female social imprisonment, lent rigor by the twin forces of poverty and discriminatory traditions, may indeed prove impossible to overcome.

However, this narrative ignores the positive and transformative power of social activism in our globalised world today, which equips all societies with the means and – more critically – motivation to realistically facilitate equality of opportunity for women. This highly desirable outcome has been given impetus in recent years through the tireless efforts of diverse social organisations and activist movements, all united in their common aspiration to create and sustain the conditions and platforms needed to provide social and economic opportunities to women that were previously denied to them. The most notable of these champions for female empowerment would be micro- lending organisation, Grameen Bank, which pioneered the practice of micro-financing in the early 2000s for impoverished young women and farmers in Bangladesh, enabling a generation of women to find opportunities as entrepreneurs in their rural communities and acquire the financial resources necessary to send their children, both boys and girls, to schools. Micro-financing has since become a viable platform for poverty alleviation and the provision of education for young girls and women in diverse communities in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, supported by aid groups such as Oxfam and international organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF). Thus the granting of opportunities for females is a distinct possibility rather than a lost cause, given the hopeful and inspirational work done by these groups.

Nevertheless, the escalating cycles of war and violence which have begun in the mid-2000ss and metastasised in the 2010s lend fuel to the fires of pessimism for many today. As a result, many of us may feel despair and believe that the laudable goal of equality of opportunities for women is more remote than ever before in human history. This pessimism is understandable, given how war and conflict irreversibly destroys the societies and stable social conditions which all people – but women especially – require for a peaceful and fulfilling life. Thus, we feel sympathy and – for the sensitive – acute emotional distress for the women and girls displaced by violent war and conflict in diverse conflict zones ranging from Marawi in the Philippines to Homs in Syria and the ongoing high- intensity government-drug cartel battles in the Juarez region of Mexico. The absence of peace has regrettably, in all these instances, prevented or at the very least, delayed the prospects for women and girls to fulfil their aspirations for education, work or even the basic right to life.

Yet, there is hope and a more optimistic landscape of social change and empowerment we can look to if we review the issue from a more pro-active perspective. The opportunities for females can paradoxically find life and resurgence in conflict zones once the conflict has ended or more realistically, been reduced to manageable levels through intervention and sustained engagement by the affected people and the wider international community. This trend is best observed in societies undergoing rebuilding and reconstruction today, such as Rwanda and Afghanistan. For the women in the former country, a generation of conscientious rebuilding since the genocide of 1993-1994 has enabled the government to provide more opportunities for female workplace participation and economic rejuvenation. Similarly for Afghanistan, concerted efforts by the government and United Nations peace-keeping forces dedicated to reconstruction have provided a fair degree of stability for women to participate more fully in economic and social life today then when the country was held by the Taliban regime. More notably, the participation of Afghani women athletes, such as its celebrated women’s boxing team, lends hope to the ideal of empowerment and equality of opportunity for women.

Thus, while the tendency to feel despair for women’s prospects may exist in us, given the social and political realities we live in, we can direct our sights and efforts towards a more uplifting understanding of the world today. International efforts, alongside the innate fortitude of women which gifts them with the power to rise above their difficult circumstances, enjoins us to feel cautious optimism for equality of opportunities for women today. Going forward, it will be imperative that we collectively direct these efforts with greater commitment to the provision of opportunities for women. In doing so, we will have taken additional steps, initiated by the likes of Jane Goodall, Grameen Bank and the Afghani women boxers, to pave the road of well-being and dignity for all women today and in the future.

YES: THE STATE SHOULD BE INVOLVED TO A LARGE DEGREE IN BUSINESS AS DOING SO ENSURES A VARIETY OF EFFECTIVE BUSINESS AND SOCIETAL OUTCOMES.

1. Some vital aspects of governance, such as managing and growing the national reserves through sovereign wealth funds, should in most cases be undertaken by the state which has the long-term national interest rather than short-term commercial profits in mind.

2. The state should retain an extensive and influential regulatory role when it privatizes important public goods or services, such as transport, communications and healthcare, to ensure that social well-being and safety is not unduly marginalized by private operators focused solely on profits.

3. Economic factors related to pricing, supply and speculation pressures necessitate timely government intervention in some sectors, such as basic food commodities, housing and banking, to prevent financial elites or businessmen from exploiting members of the public or profiteering at the public expense.

4. The state needs to actively supportsocial enterprises, such as farmers cooperatives or factories which hire the handicapped, as such businesses assist the economically disempowered and are vital to building cohesive and civic societies.

NO: THE STATE SHOULD NOT BE INVOLVED IN MOST AREAS OF BUSINESS AS DOING SO DILUTES ITS EFFECTIVENESS AS A STATE AND ALSO UNDERMINES DESIRABLE BUSINESS AND SOCIETAL OUTCOMES.

1. The state should never be involved in business in countries with poor accountability and public transparency practices, as corrupt officials will likely abuse the public trust and pocket national funds or resources for themselves, leading to financial ruin for the nation.

2. Once privatization takes place, governments should maintain a minimal regulatory role as doing otherwise would interfere with the efficient daily operations of the related sectors, especially if officials do not possess the necessary expertise to contribute meaningfully to efficient operations.

3. State interventions into the free market may be driven by populist pressures, leading to highly complex, unpredictable and harmful economic consequences, such as the collapse of prices followed by unemployment in some business sectors or government subsidies in agriculture which breed farmers’ reliance on the government.

4. State involvement in social enterprises should be largely discouraged as supporting them would undermine their operators’ efficiency and pass their business problems to the state, unnecessarily burdening state resources.

YES: MAGAZINES AND TELEVISION PROGRAMS FOR SINGAPOREAN YOUTHS ARE GENERALLY WELL WRITTEN, THEREBY PROMOTING THE WELL-BEING AND DEVELOPMENT OF SINGAPOREAN YOUTHS.

1. Magazines and television programs for Singaporean youths provide articles and advice valuable to their social and emotional maturation.

2. Magazines and television programs with appropriate education content are often published and released to youths in educational institutions, providing a valuable resource for their intellectual development.

3. Magazines and television programs that target youth audiences have advertisements that promote products that are both appropriate to the needs of youths and affordable to their limited spending power.

NO: MAGAZINES AND TELEVISION PROGRAMS FOR SINGAPOREAN YOUTHS ARE GENERALLY POORLY WRITTEN, THEREBY UNDERMINING THE WELL-BEING AND DEVELOPMENT OF SINGAPOREAN YOUTHS.

1. Magazines and television programs for Singaporean youths provide articles and advice that is superficial rather than useful to their social and emotional maturation.

2. Magazines and television programs that ostensibly reach out to youths in schools may be of low production quality, thereby undermining their value as educational tools for youths.

3. Magazines and television programs that target youth audiences have advertisements that engage in deceptive marketing and promote products that are neither wholesome nor affordable to youths, causing them to develop materialistic outlooks and spendthrift behavior.

YES: SOCIETAL DEVELOPMENTS TODAY HAVE MISTAKENLY PRIVILEGED THE WELL-BEING OF CRIMINALS OVER THEIR VICTIMS, LEADING TO INJUSTICE.

1. In some liberal countries, legislative systems provide excessive chances for convicted criminals to appeal against their sentences, inevitably lengthening the time lapse between crimes and justice, thereby preventing victim closure.

2. The opinions of academics and other experts in some countries may predispose the courts or public to excuse criminal behavior by attributing it to social and background factors outside the criminal’s control, conveniently ignoring that we should all be responsible for our individual choices and actions.

3. The mass media may choose to overly focus upon or glamorize criminals and marginalize victims in news reports or film adaptations, negatively influencing society to excuse criminals and forget victims.

NO: SOCIETAL DEVELOPMENTS TODAY BALANCE THE WELL-BEING OF CRIMINALS WITH THAT OF VICTIMS, THEREBY PROMOTING JUSTICE.

1. The recognition for due justice and appropriate victim closure has propelled legislative systems in many countries to expedite trial and sentencing procedures, thereby preventing abuse and opportunistic appeals by convicted criminals.

2. In the age of social media, the opinions of masses and the public are increasingly focused on the hardships and trauma faced by victims of crime, influencing judges and courts to find their decisions more efficiently and in favor of victims.

3. The mass media reports responsibly on the harms and injustice that criminals cause to their victims, thereby providing a valuable public service by informing and educating the public on the true details and consequences of crime.

YES: SPEEDING UP THE PACE OF LIFE BRINGS MANY DISADVANTAGES AND PROBLEMS FOR MODERN SOCIETY, MAKING THE ADVANTAGES OF SLOWING DOWN A COMPARATIVELY ATTRACTIVE ONE.

1. In many of our economic activities and work-lives, excessively speeding up the pace of life has resulted in disastrous financial and health consequences, making the act of slowing down practical for individuals, institutions and entire societies.

2. In many intellectual and educational endeavors, slowing down helps engage the deep learning centres and processes of the human brain, facilitating the acquisition of complex knowledge which is increasingly vital to modern life.

3. From a moral and ethical standpoint, slowing down provides opportunities for many to reflect on our personal choices, relationships and decisions in life, which is invaluable in a modern world that compels us to make many decisions hastily and move on to the next stage without due consideration or insight.

4. As a modern consumer driven society, slowing down the pace of our material acquisitions may yield important and practical benefits, as we collectively engage in the act of reducing, reusing and recycling, thereby investing in our collective environmental well-being.

NO: MODERNITY THRIVES ON SPEED AND SLOWING DOWN THE PACE OF LIFE IS A REGRESSIVE RATHER THAN PROGRESSIVE ACT, AND WOULD BE A DISADVANTAGE IN MANY ASPECTS OF OUR LIVES.

1. The dangers of speeding up excessively are undeniable but the economic benefits of speeding up moderately are more than comparable and should be encouraged, as they increase the many factors – pace of production, transaction volumes and acceleration of learning cycles – that are integral to economic growth and prosperity.

2. We live in a modern age saturated with data and information, making the act of slowing down and processing information a less viable one compared to developing skills that speed up our capabilities to process complex knowledge.

3. Despite our romantic notions concerning the purported benefits of slowing down, the pace of scientific research, technological development and its integration into our lives should be speeded up, as doing so provides us with more avenues and innovations to solve the major societal challenges of our time.

YES: STUDYING MATHEMATICS PROVIDES IN-DEPTH VIEWS INTO THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE DISCIPLINE AND IS INTELLECTUALLY SATISFYING BUT ULTIMATELY LESS USEFUL TO MOST INDIVIDUALS AND SOCIETAL WELL-BEING.

1. In many acclaimed educational systems worldwide, the foundational levels of mathematics contain many topics that may engage youths’ intellectual curiosity but prove less useful if they specialize in other fields upon graduation from high school.

2. Studied on its own at the undergraduate level, mathematics may appear to be a highly abstract and specialized discipline for enthusiasts but appears less relevant to the concerns of acquiring a professional qualification.

3. At its more advanced levels of study,  mathematics become extremely complex and specialists may devote a major portion of post-graduate work or experience on the identification and solution of highly abstract mathematical problems that are totally removed from everyday life.

NO: STUDYING MATHEMATICS IS BOTH INTELLECTUALLY SATISFYING AND PROVIDE PRACTICAL MEANS FOR BOTH INDIVIDUALS AND SOCIETY TO ENRICH OUR LIVES AND OVERALL WELL-BEING.

1. It is the process rather than mere data one acquires that is useful in the study of complex mathematical topics at the high school level, as these topics help develop the critical thinking and visualizing skills in students that are so vital to holistic development.

2. At the undergraduate level, mathematics is integrated as a component both vital and applicable to a wide variety of seemingly unrelated disciplines, including economics, psychology and social work.

3. The more advanced levels of mathematical study aim to identify and contribute practical solutions to major challenges faced by humanity, such as complex formulations to calculate the rate of melting polar ice-caps, which may be vital to international deliberations on climate change.

YES: THE TOURISM SECTOR IN SINGAPORE REMAINS LARGELY COMMERCIALIZED AND SUPERFICIAL, LEAVING MANY TOURISTS WITH A SURFACE RATHER THAN AUTHENTIC PERSPECTIVE OF THE COUNTRY AS SEEN BY SINGAPOREANS.

1. The tourism sector in Singapore is highly commercialized and supported by various industries, such as hotels, food, beverage and retail, which largely direct tourists and their activities to the urban center rather than the authentic parts of Singaporean life, such as HDB estates.

2. Government agencies and statutory boards fund programs and facilities that present the more sanitized and glamorized aspects of Singaporean history and culture to tourists, inevitably censoring information and knowledge of societal issues that may either be contentious or controversial.

3. As a small and strategically located country in South-east Asia, Singapore is often a transit point into the region’s tourist attractions, such as Malaysia’s nature reserves, rather than an end-destination for many tourists, whose stay in Singapore will necessarily be shorter and cursory.

NO: THE TOURISM SECTOR PROVIDES VISITORS WITH MANY OPPORTUNITIES TO INTERACT WITH AND UNDERSTAND LIFE AS SEEN BY SINGAPOREANS.

1. More tour operators in Singapore now recognize that tourists desire to experience aspects of authentic Singaporean life and incorporate compatible programs, such as trips to hawker centres in HDB estates, into their itinerary.

2. Various government programs, such as short home-stay and exchange programs for foreign students, integrate visitors more thoroughly into everyday Singaporean life, providing them with a more authentic experience encompassing both palatable and contentious societal issues.

3. More tourists today, such as backpackers, recognize the varied cultural and historical depths and experiences available in Singapore and choose to stay longer, thereby undergoing a thorough appreciation of the country that more closely resembles the experiences of Singaporeans.

YES: MANY ASPECTS OF HUMAN INTERACTIONS TODAY DEPEND ON THE ADEQUATE SOURCING, SUPPLY AND DISTRIBUTION OF OIL, TO THE POINT THAT MINOR DISRUPTIONS AT ANY STAGE PARALYZE OR GREATLY REDUCE OUR CAPACITY TO FUNCTION EFFECTIVELY.

1. Most of our energy supply comes from the use of oil to generate electricity and even the most minor disruption in oil supply causes harmful changes in the price of oil, energy markets and global finance.

2. The environmental hazards associated with accidents involving oil, such as tanker spillages, are often underestimated and ignored by the international community as everyone falsely assumes that such accidents only happen to other countries and can be easily contained to their immediate locality.

3. Despite its imminent depletion in the next 50 years, many countries continue to utilize oil as their main energy resource rather than invest in the research and development of cleaner and more efficient energies.

4. The majority of our economic and industrial activities remain powered by oil-generated electricity, and emphasis on sustaining economic growth at all costs pressurizes many countries to continue their dependence on oil.

NO: A RANGE OF SOCIETAL DEVELOPMENTS AND ACTIONS BY STAKEHOLDERS HAVE REDUCED OUR DEPENDENCE ON OIL, WITH POTENTIAL BENEFITS TO OUR LONG-TERM WELL-BEING.

1. Disruptions in the supply of oil and their accompanying shocks to the global economy are factored in by many oil producing countries, which have committed to binding international trade agreements that raise production of oil to adequate levels in such cases.

2. The international community recognizes environmental hazards associated with the production, transport and storage of oil, taking adequate measures through international safety codes, emergency response procedures and collaboration with oil companies to minimize the negative impacts of such accidents.

3. Governments in more countries today have undertaken significant levels of research and development into alternative energies, as they are pressurized by their increasingly informed citizens and civic society leaders.

4. Increasingly, the drivers of our major economic and industrial activities such as multinational corporations (MNCs) and entrepreneurs have recognized the limitations of oil-dependent businesses and initiated programs to move operations away from such models, replacing them with sustainable alternatives.

YES: HOSTING MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS IS A HUGE PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION CHALLENGE IN ITSELF, FOLLOWED GENERALLY BY HARMFUL AND UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES BOTH FOR THE HOST AND HUMANITY.

1. The financial resources expanded into hosting major sporting events often drain the national budget, leading to constraints on other forms of essential public spending. In some cases, poor planning and policies may lead to overspending and accompanying costs to societal welfare.

2. Public expectations of athletes in hosting countries to do well and win medals becomes extremely high, and the focus on nationalistic pride replaces healthy competition.

3. The large numbers of visitors, alongside consumption of energy, goods and services undertaken during major sporting events can cause irreparable levels of environmental damage and degradation to both the local and regional environments.

4. Governments of hosting countries may carry out unethical or highly controversial actions to clean up their public image prior to major sports events, such as forcibly evicting squatters or homeless people from competition venues and urban centers.

NO: HOSTING MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS PROVIDES A RANGE OF BENEFITS FOR BOTH THE HOST AND HUMANITY, JUSTIFYING THE COSTS INVOLVED IN ITS PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION.

1. Although the financial resources expanded into hosting major sporting events are significant, the expenditure is matched by accompanying revenue streams and economic benefits, such as tourist dollars and a rise of employment numbers in the construction industry.

2. Athletes of hosting countries recognize the honor given by the international community to their countries, and take extra efforts to live the values of true sportsmanship such as integrity, respect for one’s fellow competitors and humility in both victory and defeat.

3. Hosting countries can work with the governments of participating countries to develop measures that alleviate the inevitable environmental damage arising from major sporting events, such as creating carbon offset programs for participating athletes and spectators flying in.

4. Major sporting events provide good opportunities for the governments of hosting countries to carry out actions that genuinely project a heightened and improved level of culture and civility, such as the release of political prisoners or the commissioning of commemorative public artworks.

YES: MEDICAL SCIENCE HAS ADVANCED RAPIDLY AND RAISED OUR POSITIVE EXPECTATIONS OF IT TO AN UNSUSTAINABLE POINT.

1. Advances in medical science have provided cures to many diseases and good health is now taken for granted by many individuals, who mistakenly believe that undergoing medication or medical procedures can replace healthy living.

2. Various aspects of medical science in aesthetic and elective surgery have progressed to unprecedented levels, encouraging many individuals to utilize such procedures excessively in search of physical perfection, displacing traditional wellness and values centered upon natural beauty and positive self-image.

3. Some highly publicized and profiled incidents of advanced medical intervention, such as the separation of conjoined twins or complete facial reconstruction, are mistakenly assumed by the public to be the norm rather than exception in medical science.

NO: MEDICAL SCIENCE MAY HAVE ADVANCED RAPIDLY BUT SOCIETY REMAINS GROUNDED AND REALISTIC ABOUT ITS POSSIBILITIES AND LIMITATIONS.

1. Many medical institutions and associations have educated the public sufficiently, such that many advanced medical procedures are duly regarded as life-saving interventions rather than substitutes for healthy living.

2. The public maintains a fair degree of skepticism and wariness towards the more dubious developments in aesthetic surgery and understands their risks, undertaking them only in exceptional rather than whimsical circumstances.

3. Many advances in medical science, such as cleft-lip surgery, are now routinely utilized in both economically developed and deprived conditions by medical professionals, vastly improving patients’ lives and becoming the healthcare norm that all societies can reasonably aspire towards.