By the law of nature, which is also the law of God, woman has one great purpose to serve on earth, that of being a good wife and mother. She may fulfil that purpose in the natural order of things by marriage, or, so to speak, in the supernatural order by devoting herself to God and satisfying her maternal instinct by a vicarious motherhood in the service, in some religious order, of the motherless, the helpless, the sick, and of all those who need her prayers or her care. The number of girls who have a religious vocation is comparatively small. But what follows applies to many of them too. In any order which undertakes such works of mercy as teaching, nursing, care of the blind or handicapped, or the rearing of orphans and homeless children, it is becoming more and more necessary for the sisters to have a suitable training; otherwise the prestige of our Catholic work may suffer by comparison with work of a similar kind carried out by Government or other agencies.
ECONOMIC PRESSURE ON WOMEN
The economic conditions, however, of our world are such that, thanks to age-long violations by man of God's laws of charity and of detachment from the motives of greed and self-interest, many of our girls will not be able to take and stay in their natural peace -the home. They will be obliged, even if they marry (and a good many may not), to earn a living for themselves and perhaps for others too. Again there may be an interval between leaving school and marriage in which it will be both necessary and right that a girl should help her parents by contributing to the family income. There are other women and we may be sure that in God's eyes they are very precious-who have willingly given up all their natural hope of a home, husband and children, to take care of aged or invalid parents or relatives and must earn the money with which to provide for their charges. So one way and another, it would seem that every girl in this age of ours must be capable of earning a reasonable income at need. What are we Catholics doing, what can we do, to see that this objective is attained?
No one in his senses imagines that all girls are exactly alike. Yet for all girls in Singapore only one type of education is generally provided. So that, regardless of whether her natural talents and tastes are those of a homemaker, a 'business girl', an artist, a craftswoman, or a "blue-stocking," each and everyone of our girls is obliged willy-nilly to fit herself into the same educational mould and to aim at the same goal - a Senior Cambridge Certificate. Many indeed are those who try; comparatively few succeed.
A very large number (compare the numbers of children in Standards One or Two in our Catholic Schools with the numbers in the senior Cambridge class) cannot get through the lower standards, and leave school frustrated, discontented and -worst of all - after years of work, expense and hope, with nothing of any market value to show for them. Such girls have not sufficient knowledge of ANY ONE THING to enable them to earn a living in modest decency so that, apart from the fact that they have learnt little that is of use for a wife and mother, they are ready victims of any prospective employer who cares to exploit their plight. There is no need here to explain in detail what that implies of misery- and of moral peril.
What can we do to remedy this state of affairs? Obviously alternative forms of education must be provided as quickly as possible for Catholic girls whose abilities are other than purely intellectual. This is done in Britain; there is no reason, except our own apathy, why it cannot be done in Singapore. Every Catholic girl, of course, needs the same instruction in faith and morals and the same initial schooling in the 'three R's'; but on reaching the age of 12 years or thereabouts, each of them should be able to follow a course of study and training for which she is suited and which will lead to the obtaining of a recognised School Leaving Certificate in the selected subjects and colloquial English. This Certificate should be of a high enough standard to ensure congenial and sufficiently paid employment for a girl who holds it.
WORK FOR WOMEN
There is no reason why training in trades and skills especially suitable to women cannot, to a considerable extent, be given to our school girls; a pre-nursing course; high-class cookery and catering; skilled care of young children; household management; salesmanship; accounting; dress-making and tailoring; stenography with typing, book-keeping, filing and correspondence; textile-designing; poster art; book-illustration; - all these are practical skills by which a living may be earned, and some of them are essential to successful home-making.
WOMEN IN INDUSTRY
There is not in Singapore the same opportunity as there is in more developed countries for women to be employed in well-paid factory work. It is a pity, for light industry offers capable girls a good prospect of advancement and responsible position. Factories for say toy-making knitting, weaving, clothing' and so on would ease our economic problem as regards women.
But if and when we can give our girls a really practical education, there is another difficulty to face here which does not appear in other countries- that is the family or clan 'closed shop'. How are we to get our girls started if they do not have the luck to belong to a family with appropriate connections? Could the answer be co-operative enterprises? The idea may perhaps seem startling but it is worth considering. It would be a tremendous Piece of work for a strong Catholic Action Group and could, if worked out, benefit both our boys and our girls. Rewi Alley managed to get small co-operatives going in China in the face of appalling difficulties. Why cannot we do it here? To launch a co-operative on the most modest scale of course needs funds- but the funds should be repaid out of earnings and used again. and again. It also needs efficient administration and expert costing and accounting until sufficient members of co-operatives are trained to do everything for themselves. But if a training in trades suitable for co-operative enterprises such as hair-dressing, tailoring, catering and cooking and so on were provided, there is no reason why they should not succeed. They have succeeded elsewhere. And a way would be open for the "practical" girl who. at present has no real hope of ever gaining a decent livelihood if she does not marry or if she is left widowed, perhaps with dependents. No Catholic girl should think that other than "white-collar work" is undignified when she remembers Jesus sawing wood and Mary carrying water and cooking. What makes it seem undignified is the low rate of pay for unskilled work. Our girls MUST BE SKILLED so that they can sell their work at a fair price and enjoy a life of decent human dignity.
HEALTH AND HOLINESS
It is far better to earn a living wage with skilled hands than to become a half-competent, underpaid, frustrated, "white-collar worker". The girl who knows that her gifts are not intellectual faces this future and resents it. Such young people are the most fertile ground of all for the seeds of communism and subversive thought, and exploitation. That seed must not be sown among our girls - and let us, as Catholics, remember that it is very much easier to be good if you are well-fed. decently housed and clothed and doing work that you CAN do and so are satisfied on the natural level. The connection between health and holiness is a very close one. Brother Body the Ass can do much to help or hinder his Rider - the Soul.
The Malayan Catholic News!etter, September 24, 1950. 3