Choo Zheng Xi
New AWARE Executive Committee remain conspicuously silent
No confidence. That is the message which 150 members of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) want to send to the Society’s new Executive Committee, which was voted in under mysterious circumstances during AWARE’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) of 28 March.
The 150 members yesterday requested that the current Executive Committee hold an Extra-Ordinary General Meeting (EOGM) within 14 days of the request.
The media release sent out by the EOGM petitioners cite the “unusual nature of the AGM…when a large number of new members turned up and appeared to vote for several office bearers, all of whom are also new members”.
9 out of 12 of AWARE’s new Executive Committee are completely new faces who joined the organization between January and March this year, and were voted in by large majorities of similarly new members at the Annual General Meeting (AGM).
Questions on whether the new committee shares AWARE’s values
To date, the new Executive Committee has maintained a wall of silence, declining all media requests on their direction for one of Singapore’s most successful civil society organizations.
The EOGM is in part an attempt to get the new Executive Committee to break their silence on their plans for AWARE.
Ms Corinna Lim, an EOGM petitioner and AWARE member for over 16 years, told TOC that they wanted to “get them (the new Executive Committee) to the table to tell us what their direction is, what their plans are, for AWARE.”
Part of the discomfort with the new Executive Committee seems to be whether the new members share the value system of the organization, which Ms Lim describes as “gender equity, diversity, and respect for the individual.”
While refusing to give media interviews, some of the new committee and their supporters are known to have publicly expressed strongly anti-homosexual sentiments.
Newly elected Secretary Ms Jenice Chua Chor Ping had previously written to The Straits Times criticizing NMP Siew Kum Hong’s attempt to repeal Section 377A, claiming that “Mr Siew has overstepped the boundary as an NMP when he chose to represent the homosexual interest group.” She also wrote a letter equating homosexuality to a mental illness, arguing for its continued criminalization on the grounds that “just as a person with kleptomania is not excused by law when caught in the act of stealing, the law does not excuse people caught in homosexual offences.”
One of the new supporters of the new Executive Committee, Ms Angela Thiang, had previously written a letter to The Straits Times Forum arguing that recognizing homosexuals as a sexual minority could potentially “lead to banning religious texts like the Quran and Bible as ‘hate literature’ for ‘incit(ing) hatred against sexual minorities.”
Among feminists, concern was voiced about the implications a Christian fundamentalist AWARE Executive Committee would have on feminism. Jolene, Editor of feminist webzine Glass Castle, worries that an overtly Christian fundamentalist AWARE Executive Committee might be regressive to women’s rights. In an editorial, she wrote:
“It is probable the new AWARE will use the perception of AWARE as an organization that speaks for women’s interests, so as to lobby for programmes that are directly contrary to women’s interests. They could well support substantial restrictions on abortion rights”.
Ms Angela Thiang had previously written a letter to The Straits Times pushing for a review of laws permitting abortion.
Former president of AWARE and Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), Ms Breama Mathi, told TOC she was uncomfortable with the opacity of the new committee’s values.
“I would like them to show cause about what they’re trying to do in relationship with AWARE’s value system. I know they are all highly qualified on paper, and these qualifications are highly valuable to any organization, but this is a 24 year old organization with an established value system. So I’d be more comfortable if they gave some clarity on what they believed in”.
AWARE’s constitution states that the threshold for calling an EOGM is 10% of AWARE’s membership. The society has around 500 members, so the current petition group of 150 members is sufficient to trigger one.
Ms Lim says that while part of the purpose of the EOGM is to get the new committee to explain its values, she added that “if it is not satisfactory to the EOGM, we will go ahead with the vote of no confidence.”
The AWARE constitution is silent on the time required for an EOGM to be called after the petitioners request one, requiring only that it be called within a reasonable time period.
The petitioners have asked that one be called within the next 14 days, after which another 14 days will be given for members to be notified.
Would legal action against the current Executive Committee be an option if they fail to comply? While hesitant to cite it as a course of action, Ms Lim did not rule it out.
“Legal action is not something we want to think about, we don’t want to destroy AWARE. It’s not something we want, and we’ll only use it as a last resort.”