Dr Chua Yang, founder of A Clinic for Women, hopes that we can one day stop talking about feminism and girl power

Dr Chua Yang

This week, we celebrate International Women’s Day with the women that we know and the lessons that they can share. Here, Dr Chua Yang, doctor and Robb Report Singapore Thought Leader, weighs in on equity, girl power and personal pillars of strength

Dr Chua Yang is a doctor with a passion for women’s healthcare. It had been a dream since she was three, and the belief that it’s the “cornerstone of all thriving communities” led her to starting A Clinic for Women in 2002 and becoming a director of Global Clinic, a non-profit that provides healthcare to the underserved communities of the world. She wanted to dictate her own terms in patient care—to create a safe and unhurried environment for women and all their needs, physical or emotional—and to offer free healthcare and health education to the most remote communities of the world. In addition to her professional career, she is also on the board of directors of Babes, a charity that supports and empowers pregnant teenagers. We speak with her to weigh in on the importance of International Women’s Day, equity and the definition of power in this world.

Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

Every individual or community of people deserve a special day of celebration! That’s why we celebrate our birthdays, Christians celebrate Easter and Singaporeans celebrate our National Day. International Women’s Day is just another joyful occasion to celebrate our achievements, find like-minded women to inspire and empower one another.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ’embrace equity’. What does this mean to you?

This is a wonderful theme as it builds on the given that everyone’s starting point is different, and ensuring equal resources and opportunities to all, as good as it sounds, will only bring most people back to square one. For equity to be achieved, individually tailored resources and opportunities will have to be provided.

Do women support each other enough?

It is difficult to quantify or define ‘enough’. In general, women understand and lean on each other for support through various life stages. I see my patients going through their pregnancies and motherhood relying heavily on encouragement and support from other mothers who have walked their paths. In my community, we have an Association of Women Doctors, specifically to help each other navigate balancing a very demanding career with other aspects of our lives. [So] I do think the support has increased tremendously with the help of connectivity and social media platforms, although these same platforms can also be used to tear down and harm. Moving forward, I do hope there will be better regulations against malicious usage and women can safely and effectively rely on the support of online community.  

What does the idea of power mean to you?

The ability to achieve my own targets and goals. 

Girl power vs feminism. Discuss. 

I have never been fond of labels or boxes. I am also not one to stand on a stage to shout for world peace! I believe in building up one individual at a time by conversations and by example. That’s why I derive great pleasure and feel a huge sense of privilege with my practice. I get to have conversations with young couples expecting their babies at a time they are most inspired to do right by the child they are expecting. Over [my] 30 years of practice, it is wonderful to see our society move away from gender biases when it comes to having children and how each child is valued and loved. That reflects people seeing and realising that girls and women can and have achieved as much if not more in life as boys and men. 

We all want to be. I grew up reading about the ability of Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, Jo March, Dr Kay Scarpetta. I am grateful to have been exposed to those fictional inspirations when I was a child. I also have extremely supportive parents who always told me I could achieve anything I am passionate about, dropped me off for a few hours weekly at the National Library and never once bought a Barbie doll for me. When we have an education system that values and offer equitable opportunities to each individual, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status, we will one day hopefully not have to talk about girl power (or boy power) or feminism anymore. 

Describe your biggest achievement thus far.

I was three when I wanted to be a doctor. Having parents who spoke mostly Mandarin, I was teased and bullied in school for my English and for being socially awkward. I survived that holding on to my dream and calling! 

As someone whom we consider successful, what wisdom can you share with the rest of us?

I am quite disciplined when I am committed to a cause. This is true in my professional achievements, but even more so in my pursuit of health and happiness! We are each supported by our very own pillars of strength, such as our family, friends, job, health and passion. We will potentially feel overwhelmed if all our pillars collapse at the same time. But if one pillar fails us, we can readjust our footing and rely more on another pillar till the disruption is rebuilt. But each pillar needs our own huge effort to nurture and nourish on a daily basis. We cannot expect to constantly rely on a friend we have refused to make time for. We cannot expect good health when we fail to observe daily healthy lifestyle choices. Therefore, while the going is good, spend time with each of our personal pillars to build them up strong and sturdy for the rainy day is always around the corner. 

If you could have dinner with three powerful women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

I am very happy to have dinner with any three random women from all walks of life. I believe there is something to be learned from anyone we meet and spend time with. Anyone could potentially trigger a lightbulb moment and shift my dial just a little! That would be a joyful dinner indeed! 

A Clinic for Women