Thursday, April 23, 2009

More (secret) rallies to support or save Aware

I received this anonymous email from an anonymous person from another anonymous person. It appears to be a rally to support Aware. You can support Aware to support the cause of women in Singapore; I believe you can also support the cause of women in Singapore through means other than supporting one singular organisation. If you speak up for women, or even casually raise an issue in a private or public space, you have already played a small role in support the cause of women. Yes, we all should support Aware and its programmes. But this email is a rally targeted at the more 'conservation' faction.

There are many factions out there: conservative, progressive, liberal, moderate (That's me! i r moderate; u r weasel!), etc. Let us have our own spaces and participate in meaningful dialogue. It is not about dominating one another, but the creation of many spaces gives people more choices to decide which space they ideologically or emotionally belong to.

Mind you, the letter may be not be authentic and might have been edited or even fabricated, so I am reproducing what I got just to discuss the rhetoric of it. This letter is also unsigned. I am not concerned with the intentions of the letter, so please do not think too much about it. But it is important to understand the rhetoric and make sense of it, like what I am trying to do.

Here is the letter, which is private and confidential!!! Don't circulate in the public k!!! (bolded and reddened by me)

---

Private & Confidential (not for public circulation)

Dear friends,

I write this in my personal capacity as a woman who is interested to ensure that the values and views about the kind of society we want to have and live in are not being influenced and determined by a small group of people or an organization(s) who claims general representation for women.

For the past week, the Straits Times has been expending extraordinary amount of pages, time and energy about the new Exco of AWARE. AWARE is an organization which principally seeks as its main objective gender equality in Singapore. The press has been inferring that a group of Christians with an anti-gay stance is taking over AWARE. They are casting a negative image on the new team. The new team says they are trying to bring the focus of AWARE back to its original mission i.e. to identify areas for improvement in gender equality, encourage positive change and support women in realizing their highest potential.

Some pertinent info about AWARE and its latest on-goings are listed below (for details please read the attached files):

1) AWARE had always advocated for women's issues of their times
e.g.. battered women in the early years, helping needy women find jobs, etc.

2) In recent years, the membership of AWARE has dwindled. To
bring in a new dimension, AWARE's focus shifted towards cultivating a diverse sexuality platform that includes endorsing alternative sexual choices.

3) AWARE recently brought its Comprehensive Sexual Education into some schools which embrace diversity and individual choices in their sexual relationships.

4) Held Charity Gala Premier movie, 'Spider Lilies', to raise
awareness of its Comprehensive Sexual Education. It is a Taiwanese lesbian-themed movie : "the two main leads are lesbian who explore deeper sense of love, companionship and longing".

We understand that the new Exco seeks to bring the focus of AWARE back to pro-women, pro-family and pro-Singapore. It seems that the old team who has called for an EGM, are garnering new members to remove the new Exco so that they can continue their pro-alternative lifestyle agenda.

These are some of the changes proposed by the old team which will be tabled at the meeting:

"Aware would be seeking to introduce several 'constitutional changes':
Expanding the voting rights to men, expatriate women and teenagers above the age of 15 ..".

I do not personally know any of the new team. Perhaps they could have handled certain things better but given the pace and heat of things there could have been some misunderstanding. But the important thing is whether the values they stand for are the same as the ones we hold fast to?

If these 'conservative' pro-family VALUES are important to you, too, we must come forward and do our part to preserve these values for the sake of our children, grandchildren and the generations to come. As such, I strongly urge you and your friends to be members of AWARE immediately because the EGM takes place on 2 May 2009. The application form for membership is in the attached file and it cost $40 for ordinary membership, Make sure you come to the EGM and hear for yourself and then decide how you should vote to make your stand known. Details of the EGM is as follows:

EGM of AWARE
Saturday, 2nd May 2009,
2.00 pm - 5.00 pm
First Choice Auditorium,
3 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh
2nd Level HSR Building ,
Singapore 319378

Carpark facilities are at Blk 47, multi-storey carpark at Blk 18, next to Pei Chun Primary School .
Come early as a large crowd is expected and remember to bring your IC.

If you are signing up, please let me know so I can arrange for your
form(s) to be collected.

If you wish to circulate this email, feel free to amend it but kindly sign it off in your name, I would appreciate if you remove my name as the sender.

Thank you.

---

No, thank you!

Hey, a "small group" matters too. What is the "general representation" of women any way?

There are abused women, there are Chinese Tai-tais who wear nice ear-rings and pearly necklaces, there are single mums, there are women struggling with their sexual orientation (the struggle can be positive or negative), there are adulterous women, there are widows, there are factory-worker women, there are Indian Muslim women, there are women who do not get enough health subsidees, there are pre-operative transsexual women who need funds to go for sexual reassignment surgery, there are women rape victims, there are pregnant women rape victims, there IS woman minister, there are sexually active teenage girls, there are 70+ year old women (men too, actually) who are still working (cleaning or scavenging for recyclable material), etc. Come on! There are too many women out there in Singapore. In the first place, what is the point of having an executive committee compromising women who may not fully understand or even acknowledge the reality of some of the abovementioned examples? Have they paid their dues and got their hands dirtied (in a positive enriching way) in community engagement?

The new team says they are trying to bring the focus of AWARE back to its original mission i.e. to identify areas for improvement in gender equality, encourage positive change and support women in realizing their highest potential. - That is fine, but vague. Please identify what is "gender equality" according to you! Myself and the Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance, two of many other parties, have already defined what we feel is "gender equality". In fact, let me add something about gender equality, can single men or single trans-women adopt children, like single women? Is that gender equality? Will Aware look into that?

And has the new Aware (as of the March AGM) answered the question of a woman's work discrimination based on her sexuality?

Define what you feel is "positive change". "Positive change" for me is to improve and expand the organisation's understanding of openness and inclusiveness. For example, extend that "positive change" by making the effort in including queer and trans women into it. To me, "positive change" is to be progressive and to be continually open to concerns from the larger public (of women, in this case).

"Support women in realizing their highest potential." - Yes, women have different kinds of potential, depending on their individual background, beliefs, identity and aspirations. That includes a woman's choice to be a professional or a home-maker, a mother or a single, to be married to a man or a woman, to bear or adopt a child, to keep or abort, to be happy in her own way as how she wants it. Will the new Aware support this?

-add- This reminds of why we have a Muslim man as a Minister for Muslim Affairs. It is because he is Muslim! Can a non-Muslim person understand and look after Muslim Affairs in Singapore? Perhaps. He/she might have done years of community work and research, and might have gained the confidence and respect of the community. By the way, all our Ministers (in the cabinet) have paid their dues doing a lot of grassroots work, and we have to acknowledged that. So I can't help but juxtapose this example with the new AWARE. 2 questions here: Does identity and beliefs matter? Have you paid your dues? -add-

"In recent years, the membership of AWARE has dwindled. To bring in a new dimension, AWARE's focus shifted towards cultivating a diverse sexuality platform that includes endorsing alternative sexual choices." - Firstly, we have the alleged takeover taskforce to thank for, to create interest in women's issues again. The organisation, AWARE, has to continually evolve, not devolve, to incorporate newer issues concerning women today. Sexuality is part of a person's identity, whether you identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual or '-sexual' beyond categorisation.

"AWARE recently brought its Comprehensive Sexual Education into some schools which embrace diversity and individual choices in their sexual relationships." - This one is about choice. It probably implies a loss on the side of the pro-life faction of society. I still stand by my suggestion of a polycentric sex education programme. That way, we have more choices. Some can choose abstinence, some can choose contraception, some can choose toothpaste. Everyone has a choice, because everyone is different. There is nothing wrong with embracing diversity in Singapore, because Singapore's political and economic stability rests on maintaining the harmony of diversity. Are you upset with diversity? With regards to sexual relationships, what is inherently wrong with choice? And can your reason apply to each and every Singaporean?

We understand that the new Exco seeks to bring the focus of AWARE back to pro-women, pro-family and pro-Singapore. - Again, please define what you understand by "pro-women", "pro-family" and "pro-Singapore". With all due respect, judging by the demographic representation in the executive committee, it seems this is a vision best represented by the middle-to-upper class ethnic Chinese conservative woman who identifies as heterosexual. You may explain what "pro-women/family/Singapore" includes, but you are equally obliged to clearly and honestly explain what it excludes. And with the exclusions, if they exist, how relevant will this AWARE be to Singaporeans?

It seems that the old team who has called for an EGM, are garnering new members to remove the new Exco so that they can continue their pro-alternative lifestyle agenda. - "Pro-alternative lifestyle" agenda? What on earth is that? I tell you something, I lead an alternative lifestyle. Most men my age are not married. Most are single and working. Most do not cook and clean. Most will care about shaving their face. Most will not talk about gender equality and queer rights. Am I leading an alternative lifestyle? Is that wrong? How alternative is this?

With regards to the statement, please do not dehumanise our fellow Singaporean women who identify as queer. Lifestyle is only one aspect/manifestation of a person's identity. Queer should not be reduced to a lifestyle. By implying it, e.g. homosexuality, is a lifestyle, you are meaning to say homosexuality can be corrected and unlearned/discarded. Yes, there are some individuals who seek "correction" and there are others who do not. Are you going to help these individuals fulfill this potential? This rhetoric is getting old, by the way. So please stop the dehumanisation of our fellow human beings.

But the important thing is whether the values they stand for are the same as the ones we hold fast to? - Well, that is why we need pluralism in terms of representation and participation, and not an alleged and seemingly homogeneous bunch to steer AWARE. All of us have values, and some of us think that the values of others are not values at all. So how? Can we have a dialogue? Can we have diversity? Is your idea of "diversity" full of exclusions?

If these 'conservative' pro-family VALUES are important to you, too, we must come forward and do our part to preserve these values for the sake of our children, grandchildren and the generations to come. - Like what Alex Au have pointed out, "pro-family" is Christian Fundamentalist speak. I believe like human beings, families are different from one another. And these differences are defined by the values they have, some of which are common and some different. Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, separated from her husband, has two gay sons, but they still love as each. Is that family? It is to me. A lesbian couple supporting each other emotionally, financially and logistically - that is family to me too. The idea of family and home is fundamentally (sorry I have to use that word) about love. No love, no family. Moreover, this love is sometimes irrational and you don't have to justify it.

"For the sake of our children, grandchildren and generations to come" - Come on. Stop hiding behind the young. I liken this to a moral terrorist, who holds hostage a toddler and points a gun to its head. Let the young decide what is best for them. Let them choose what kind of "family" they feel most comfortable in, where they feel most loved, where they feel the least (or no) guilt and unhappiness, where they can be themselves, be honest, open and heard too.

By the way, values change in time, sometimes due to colonisation, migration, or the ascension of certain parties to power. So these changes are seen as good/bad/progressive/regressive by different people.

Let us not destroy our children. We are treating our children like how Cinderella's sisters treated themselves - chopping off their toes so they can fit into the glass slipper (is it glass?). But you get my point. I'd prefer our children to be well-adjusted, rather than forcing them to adjust. Let them find the values they best identify with. I'd prefer our children to be responsible and accountable, not secretive and elusive like the new AWARE executive committee. So come on, ladies, "think about our children, grandchildren and generations to come", and be honest and upfront and address all the questions and speculations.

On that note, I would like repeat (again) my views concerning the AWARE episode (this blockbuster multi-episode drama, not Red Thread, sorry):

1) I urge netizens/bloggers not to bash women (talking about cat fight and all that) or bash Christianity. We should devote our energies to fighting for diversity of opinion, representation and participation.

2) We must make the people behind the rhetoric responsible and accountable for what they say. They should be encouraged to define and explain what they say.

3) As for the people who plan to join the extraordinary general meeting (EGM or EOGM) to vote, make sure you care, primarily, about women's issues and rights in Singapore. Don't join just to vote for your team, but join because you know you are continually committed to furthering the cause of women (and men too, since it's under the banner of "gender equality") in Singapore. AWARE as the organisation needs passionate and dedicated members, not one-off ones.

If there is only 1 out 10 members who are getting their hands dirty doing community work, it is AWARE the organisation that suffers in the end. You should join AWARE because you are your own person and that you have made a decision that is closest to your heart, not someone else's.

You should join an NGO with an awareness of the relevant issues, not because someone told you to. These are my views because amidst whatever political struggle we have, we need to spare a thought for the organisation and its hard work and credibility.

I formed the Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance (SinQSA) with a few friends because I believed in it, just each and every one of them did. I was scared at first because I did not know what to do. Nevertheless, we developed a simple mission/vision, and dedicated some time and resources to pursuing it, in our own ways. If you want a dialogue, you have got to start it; if you want communication, you have got to start communicating.

In the event any one wants to join SinQSA (not just as a member on the Facebook and mailing list), he/she will need to be aligned with our mission, and passionate enough to help fulfill it. The same goes for any organisation or team.

-add- I realised this ended a bit abruptly. Basically, I want to call for calm heads and open honest dialogue. As cliched as it may sound, it makes it a little less tense.

5 comments:

Glass Castle said...

This is fabulous. Thank you so much Sam.

Jolene

Weiye said...

That's exactly what I'm saying. That we end up 'oppressing' a certain group of 'conservatives' by pushing for the liberation of another group.

In the end, it'll just become an issue of who's oppressing who.

I hope people (everyone, doesn't matter if you have a liberal view or conservative view) can bring back the focus to equality and discuss sexuality or religion, etc, under that focus. Ultimately, that's what AWARE is and should be about - promoting equality despite the different views and understandings people might have about it.

socguy said...

eh, so Thio Sr. is the one who circulated these letters? or who? And why isn't there some anti-fundie watch in sg? Even though they haven't started to plan attacks on the MRT, it doesn't mean they deserve less attention than any other extremist cells

Malcolm said...

Yup, looks like Dr Thio admitted to penning the e-mail. It looks increasingly evident that there is a conservative conspiracy here.

Chloe Ask said...

"Here is the letter, which is private and confidential!!! Don't circulate in the public k!!!"
And you post it on the internet for the whole world to see!!
This is rich!!!