I read the news today, oh boy.
About a lucky bunch who made the grade.
The rat is smelly, but maybe our noses are too sensitive. You be the judge. (see end of article for related links)
I shall reproduce the Straits Times report here, for public knowledge.
Apr 10, 2009
Unknowns knock out veterans at Aware polls: Caught off-guard by big turnout, longtime members lose to fresh faces
Singaopre's best-known women's group, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), has seen a dramatic changing of the guard - which some members are describing as nothing short of a leadership grab.
When Aware held its annual general meeting on March 28, everyone expected the usual: No more than 30 or 40 members would turn up at its Dover Crescent centre, and a prepared slate of candidates would be voted into office easily.
Instead, more than 100 people came, the majority of whom had joined Aware only in recent months.
And when the election of office bearers began, almost every position was challenged by new faces, who won by wide majorities.
In the end, nine out of 12 executive committee spots went to the newcomers.
One older member who won without a contest was Mrs Claire Nazar, a former corporate counsel nominated to be president by outgoing Aware chief Constance Singam.
But barely a week into her new term, and before making her first statement as president, Mrs Nazar quit suddenly this week.
She confirmed that she had resigned, but declined to say any more when reached by The Straits Times.
It is not known who will now become president.
Longtime members took two other positions: Chew I-Jin as assistant honorary treasurer and Caris Lim Chai Leng was elected a committee member.
The election results have left longtime Aware members in shock.
Former president Tan Joo Hymn, 38, told The Straits Times the big turnout at the AGM surprised her.
'I arrived at the meeting late and found out that I was No. 100 on the attendance list. I've been a member for 10 years, and never before has there been such a turnout,' said the former lawyer who is now a full-time mother.
Another former president, writer Dana Lam, 57, said: 'There were many faces I had not seen before, and I found that very strange.
'In previous years, even if there were new members, they would be known to one or more of the older members.'
The first indication that something was afoot came when Ms Chew, an Aware veteran, was challenged and defeated handsomely by new member Charlotte Wong Hock Soon for the post of vice-president.
Ms Chew was later elected unopposed as assistant honorary treasurer.
'It was alarming,' said Ms Lam. 'How could a new member who had just joined for a couple of months, and whom we knew nothing about, be picked over someone who has been with Aware for more than 15 years?'
Some of the older members immediately began checking the attendance list.
Ms Tan said: 'We found that about 80 of the 102 who turned up were new members who joined between January and March this year.'
Aware, a feminist group that has prided itself on being 'all inclusive', has never vetted the people who apply to be members.
Men can join too, as associate members.
As it dawned on them that a leadership grab was imminent, some older members at the AGM tried asking the newcomers who they were, what they stood for, and why they wanted to be in charge.
They got only the briefest answers, they said.
Ms Lam said she tried suggesting that new members serve a stint on Aware's various sub-committees before standing for election to leadership positions.
But such suggestions went unheeded as the election proceeded, with more newcomers winning executive committee positions by landslide margins.
Ironically, the old guard at Aware had been working towards changing their Constitution to make it a rule that only those who have been members for at least a year would be eligible to join the ex-co.
There is currently no rule to bar a brand new member from seeking office, and that was what happened at the AGM.
Ms Tan said: 'We were simply outnumbered. Technically, they got in legitimately.'
She added that the way the election proceeded was so unusual, it was hard to imagine that the takeover was not a planned effort.
'It could not be pure coincidence,' she said.
But little is known of Aware's new leaders, aside from the fact that they include women from the corporate sector, lawyers, company directors and academics.
Older members said the newcomers spoke well but would not elaborate on their plans for Aware.
'When asked if they believed in equality, they kept repeating they were there to support women and to make sure they got ahead and got all the opportunities given to them,' Ms Lam said.
Older members were keen to know if the newcomers shared Aware's vision and values, including equality for all regardless of race, religion or sexuality.
But one outspoken new member from the floor, who identified herself as Angela Thiang, said questions about the new office bearers' religion and their stand on homosexuality were not relevant.
Former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Braema Mathi, a two-term president of Aware, told The Straits Times that she, like many other members, was concerned.
'If you are keen to serve, you don't challenge every position. We do not know who they are,' said the former journalist who is now in Bangkok doing consultancy work for international women's group Unifem.
'It is very troubling, more so because I've heard the new president has resigned.'
Almost a fortnight into their new roles, the new leaders of Aware were not entertaining calls from the media this week.
New honorary secretary Jenica Chua Chor Ping told The Straits Times a press release would be issued 'in a few days' and added that until then, the committee would not answer any questions.
A check showed that some of those at the AGM and on the new committee have appeared in The Straits Times Forum Page.
Ms Chua, Ms Thiang and Dr Alan Chin, a male member of Aware who attended the AGM and supported the newcomers, all wrote letters to this newspaper between August and October 2007.
In a letter on Oct 17 that year, Ms Chua said NMP Siew Kum Hong had overstepped his non-partisan role and advanced the homosexual cause by tabling a petition in Parliament to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises homosexual sex between consenting men.
In another letter on Oct 25, she took issue with a Straits Times report which said NMP Thio Li-Ann had been 'visibly distraught' when she opposed Mr Siew's petition vigorously.
Ms Chua said Ms Thio had dealt with several points succinctly, with humour and passion.
Dr Chin and Ms Thiang both wrote letters to caution against the risks of promoting the homosexual lifestyle.
Meanwhile, news of Aware's AGM has spread among older members who did not attend the meeting, as well as civil society groups.
The most frequently-asked questions: Who are the new women in charge, why do they want the leadership, and what are their plans for Aware?
Ms Mathi said: 'The building of an institution takes many years; building its value system is even harder.
'Why can't they come in and be part of the process, and build it together and in a more evolutionary manner? That way, the comfort level will be high for everyone.'
Former newspaper editor and media consultant Peter Lim, a longtime associate member of Aware, said he was very surprised to learn what had taken place.
Asked why he thought a group of newcomers would want to take control, he said he did not know if it was an orchestrated effort.
But he thought Aware would be attractive to those seeking to be in charge of an established institution. Setting up a new outfit would take too much time and trouble.
'Aware has built up its credentials over the years and achieved more than a few things,' he said.
Three former Aware presidents - Ms Claire Chiang, Dr Kanwaljit Soin and Ms Mathi - have served as NMPs.
'Aware is a brand name and most people regard it as the leading voice of the feminists and modern women in Singapore,' said Mr Lim.
Reported by Wong Kim Hoh, Straits Times.
There has been one reaction to this news so far. Refer to end of this article for more links.
The Straits Times is interesting. They do their snoops but leave the "reading" to their readers. They mentioned Jenica Chua, Angela Thiang, Claire Nazar and Alan Chin in the article. For those who have followed the news, these individuals have contributed their (conservative) views in the S377A debate in 2007.
Jenica Chua: May 25, 2007 - ST online forum, "Some erroneous claims in writer's views on gay debate"; Oct 17, 2007 - ST forum, "NMP overstepped role in championing gay cause"; October 25, 2007 - ST forum, "'Visibly distraught'? Prof was fiery and passionate".
Alan Chin: May 8, 2007 - ST online forum, "Homosexuality: Neither a disease nor an immutable trait"; May 15, 2007 - ST online forum, "Figures speak for themselves: Practising gays have higher risk of HIV"; May 28, 2007 - ST online forum, "Aids and gays: A flawed response"; Jul 16, 2007 - ST online forum, "Let's conserve our marriage constitution as one between man and woman"; Aug 7, 2007 - ST online forum, "Law and public education should go hand in hand in dealing with HIV"; Aug 8, 2007 - ST forum, "Beware the high-risk ‘gay lifestyle’".
Angela Thiang: Jan 13, 2004 - Today, "'Gay gene' is still a theory"; Aug 10, 2007 - ST forum, "Beware loose use of term 'sexual minorities'".
Claire Nazar: Jul 13, 2007 - ST online forum, "Stop bashing the majority for their views on homosexuality".
I have no idea how AWARE works, but it is definitely interesting to know what plans they have in store for Singapore - women, children and men, of different backgrounds and identities.
As we read between the lines of the Straits Times, we may get the hint that there is a little bit of an effort - coordinated or not - put in by the conservative (not nice to call them fundies or 'phobes) folk. They leave breadcrumbs behind. As with being a high profile PAP member and government official, it's all about breadcrumbs, because there's only a certain extent the media and other organisations will help you cover your trails.
Wong Kim Hoh, the reporter of the abovementioned article, previously covered a story on the transgendered folk. It seems that everyone is doing some form of politics.
Amidst the concerns pointed out in the newspaper, AWARE still holds true to its idea of inclusiveness. The paradox of inclusiveness is that you cannot exclude "conservative" folk. Whoever wants to participate, can participate. And put to a democratic vote, majority wins. The victory of democracy is the loss for pluralism.
The conservative/moral elite are vying to be the political elite. Maybe that has already happened, maybe not. The problem lies in the fact that these folks are not challenged. Moreover, public discourse has cast a bad light on everything "elite" and people tend to stay away from engaging it.
Not all "elite" stuff are evil. For example, there are some among the educated elite who may not identify with the ideas of the conservative elite. But whatever portion of the elite anyone belongs to, it only matters more when they wield greater politic power and leverage. For example, if the conservative/moral elite part of the educated elite, becomes the political elite, decisions and policies will be made that might marginalise other voices.
We have already seen in the newspapers (in 2007), that the moral elite (among the educated elite, consisting lawyers and doctors) are to an extent leaders of opinion, wanting to influence readers. They compete with the lesser coordinated and more dispersed bunch of folk like myself, who occasionally write in to rebutt some of their divisive - and bordering on hateful - views.
Maybe it is all a coincidence. But the conservative representation and participation in AWARE says something about the political authority and position of AWARE in Singapore, and says something about the importance of being in AWARE.
In my knowledge, AWARE has never been openly gay-affirmative, or pro-queer. Queer-friendly to an extent, but cautiously silent about it. Will this change with the new leadership?
Will other things change too? For example, sex education. Will there be a wider "syllabus"? Will AWARE be secular?
For public information, can AWARE release the background and religious affiliation of each and every member? After all, they are helping to make Singapore a better place, right? It will do Singaporeans a service if we knew where these volunteers come from.
You might read this as a passive-aggressive ploy to invoke identity politics, but I believe identity plays a role in the decisions we make. Your religious identity, for example, leads to certain decision-making processes, the outcomes of which might disadvantage or divide other groups. Not to mention, most of the women are ethnic Chinese and of a certain socio-economic status/class.
Let us see how all these unfold.
I would like to appeal to everyone who is inclined to scream "conspiracy" or "anti-gay lobbyist/activist" to refrain for the moment. AWARE has yet to make a release. Sure some of its members have exhibited and expressed anti-gay sentiments, but we cannot be certain the organisation will be moulded in the image of their ideologies combined.
At the same time, I feel that it is a little bit of a stretch, for the moment, to directly and only link this to the counter-counter-discourse to the pro-sexual minority rights counter-discourse.
Other related links:
AWARE Caught Unawares
Gays now facing backlash of its own doing?
Not Secular Feminists But Sectarian Fundamentalists: And They’ll Come For You Too
Why recent events at Aware concern all of us (with other articles)
The crusade has begun...
The religious fundamentalist threat is real
Fundies in Singapore take over Women’s Group
Aware – What a brilliant coup!
AWARE AGM cat fight (title changed to "AWARE AGM: kena caught unawares" because of alleged sexist connotations)
Anti-gay lobby hijacks AWARE
Why AWARE was 'taken over'.....
The Borg take over AWARE at AGM
Coup D'etat (or Organized Crime) of Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE)
The AWARE AGM 2009 — my personal take: beware of ST
Be Careful Gays, Aware Has Already Been Taken Over By People U Do Not Wish To Be In Power
Anti-gay Christian fundamentalists hijack Singapore's women's group
"Aggressive takeover" at AWARE?
BEWARE! Newcomers taking over AWARE in progress!
Beware of AWARE!
Beware of AWARE Part II. What some people are saying about it.
AWARE caught unaware: The 1st hint of “hijacking”
AWARE caught unaware: The names of the team (has a series of webpages with information, nice work)
Troubles at AWARE
What netizens can learn from the AWARE incident to keep our net free and independent (has weblinks, please do the citing/attribution though, not cool man, nor responsible)
The Same Thing We Do Every Night, Pinky
From now on, be wary of AWARE
Singapore, please be AWARE!
ST news: 'No money, no Honey'
Aware takeover: great news!
beware of the new “AWARE”?
The Rise of the Neo-Nazi Faction of Singapore? (not very tastefully titled though)
Anyone know of AWARE? (no idea what he's talking about, but it's still an opinion)
Fear is in the air
AWARE overrun by religious zealots
MIWs Are Shocked....The Storming of AWARE In Singapore
More awareness needed about the “leadership grab” in AWARE
-Apr 14 additions-
It is all about the Gays?
150 AWARE members seek vote of no confidence in new executive committee
An Open Letter to God
Post-Election Blues: Shake-up at Local Feminist Organisation (nice feminist website, but their banner has a picture of the hegemonic slim feminine silhouette... wtf, maybe it's a different kind of feminist politics.)
AWARE? Or can't be bothered?
Counter-attack at Aware
AWARE - is it all about gays only?
It is all about the Gays?
Protecting a democratic institution
Could this had been a conspiracy or pure coincidence?