Last week, immediate past-president of AWARE and three time president, Constance Singam resigned her position as AWARE adviser. In a letter to Aware members, she stated that she is “unable to support, participate, in or sanction the new approach” of the new committee.
We publish the letter below.
AWARE will be holding an EGM to conduct a vote of no-confidence in the new executive committee on May 2. Those interested in becoming members can sign up here.
Dear AWARE member,
These past few weeks have been difficult for me, as you can imagine. You all know of my long-term commitment to AWARE and AWARE’s objectives. In AWARE we have created a space where everyone is welcome; where everyone is respected whatever their choice in life; where I have made life-long friends. But I find myself unable to support, participate in or sanction the new approach of the 2009 Executive Committee of AWARE. I have therefore submitted my resignation from the EXCO as Immediate Past President.
I am writing this email to explain to the AWARE members whose email addresses I have in my personal computer why I have resigned from the EXCO.
The AWARE Constitution states that the immediate past president shall be on the EXCO as an adviser. Members of the 2009 EXCO referred to me as a ‘rock’ and ‘the foundation’, and a source of continuity and point of reference to AWARE’s history and culture. But at the first two meetings of the 2009 EXCO, when I offered my advice on a number of issues it was ignored.
I was particularly unhappy that my advice on the subcommittee chairs was totally disregarded. When the EXCO proposed to replace all subcommittee chairs with EXCO members, I protested and said it was AWARE’s long-standing practice to give more women, especially young women, the opportunity to acquire leadership skills and empowering them through experiences in sub-committee work. I reminded them that the coordinators have been working on these issues for some time and that summarily replacing them would be disrespectful and counter-productive. But EXCO ignored my advice.
The removal of the chair of the CEDAW Committee, Braema Mathi, is especially disturbing as Braema is the Singapore expert on CEDAW. Her work on CEDAW is respected internationally and there is arguably no better person in Singapore to lead the effort to produce the CEDAW shadow report. Yet, she was dismissed summarily without any stated reasons or even a simple thank you.
I am also very concerned about the possible ideological opposition of many members of the 2009 Executive Committee to AWARE’s historic fundamental values. The possible opposition to these values, or at least a lack of understanding of them, was obvious at the AGM when these new members failed to affirm Aware’s values. Several times those who were standing for election were asked to declare their understanding of feminism and the objectives of AWARE. The responses were, at best, non-committal.
Our values, which are the essence of this organization, are based on the fundamental rights and responsibilities of women as women. These include being treated as informed individuals capable of choice; being deserving of opportunities equal to those of men in education, marriage and employment; and being able to control their own bodies, particularly with regard to sexual and reproductive health. Upholding and promoting these values is at the core of AWARE, and I expect
members who want to serve on the EXCO, particularly as office bearers, to understand and support this.
What the EXCO said in the press release issued on 15th April was a sharp contrast to the behavior of many of its members at our internal EXCO meetings. In their public statement the EXCO said: “The New Team at AWARE wishes to remember and honour the work of past AWARE members for their vision and endeavours to advance the cause of women in all areas of society through advocacy and community work.” But in private meetings the EXCO showed a complete lack of respect for me, ignoring my advice and even keeping me out of an EXCO meeting when I had the right to be there as stated in the constitution.
News coming to light each day adds to my concern about the intentions and ability of the EXCO to lead AWARE. I was shocked to read the statements made by DBS in the last two days about the conduct of the new AWARE president, Josie Lau. DBS said - “We are disappointed that Josie knowingly disregarded DBS’ staff code of conduct twice. Such an attitude is not one that DBS, or any other organisation, can condone in a leader.” AWARE certainly should not.
I was even more concerned by the reports that Josie led the marketing team in DBS’s credit card campaign last year which supported the evangelical Christian organisation Focus on The Family. And this morning I discover in the media that Josie, Charlotte, Jenica, Maureen, Sally and Irene apparently attend the same church. AWARE is a secular organisation that embraces diversity of race, age, religion, culture and sexuality, and it must remain so. I am not at all confident that the current EXCO intends to ensure this.
Though I am resigning from the EXCO I remain committed to AWARE and its work, and I hope you will too. AWARE’s values and its work over the last 25 years are important for Singapore and we must do all we can to ensure it continues to be a voice for women in Singapore and a champion of diversity, tolerance and transparency.