Despite its claims that it has advanced women’s causes in the country, Singapore has fallen short, especially in supporting lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBTQ) individuals, says Singapore-based LBTQ women’s group Sayoni.
Sayoni, a non-government organisation formed in 2006 that is committed to empower queer women, submitted a Shadow Report to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee for the 68th CEDAW Session in 2017.
In this report, pertinent issues concerning institutional discrimination against LBTQ women and transgender men in Singapore are highlighted.
Silence on LBTQ women’s plight in the fifth state report and the lack of concrete action and substantive measures following the 49th Session in 2011 reveal significant gaps in Singapore’s fulfillment of its obligations to the Convention.
Recommendations which have been submitted to the CEDAW Committee at the United Nations in the the evidence-based report include:
- Concrete action in implementing anti-discrimination legislation,
- Rectifying media codes and censorship,
- Improving capacity among state and non-state actors to end violence,
- Equalising marriage rights, access to residency for same-sex spouses, and protection of rights of children from same-sex households,
- Equalising access to information on LGBTQ sexual and reproductive health. Singapore ratified CEDAW in 1995 and periodically submits a compliance report to the Committee. Local civil society organisations independently submit shadow reports to supplement the government’s report.
At the 49th session in New York (2011), the CEDAW Committee, in its Concluding Observations under “Stereotypes and harmful practices” (points 21-22), called upon the State party to: “Put in place, without delay, a comprehensive strategy to modify or eliminate patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes that discriminate against women, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in conformity with the provisions of the Convention. Such measures should include efforts, in collaboration with civil society, to educate and raise awareness of this subject, targeting women and men at all levels of society.”
The State responded at the CEDAW pre-session in 2011 (point 31.1) that: “The principle of equality of all persons before the law is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
After this 68th CEDAW session in Geneva, Sayoni hopes the Singapore government will:
- Pay close attention to and take into serious consideration all the Committee’s recommendations pertaining to discrimination of women based on sexual orientation and gender.
- Move beyond broad rhetoric and take concrete action to effect substantive and material changes towards eliminating institutional discrimination against LBTQ women.
- Sincerely collaborate with non-state organisations to raise awareness and protection of LBTQ women from discrimination and abuse.
Below is Sayoni’s oral statement delivered by Alina on 23 October 2017 in Geneva Concerning equality for LBTQ women in Singapore
Thank you, Madam Chair. We are part of the women’s NGO coalition.
Sayoni’s research found three pressing issues affecting lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, or LBTQ women:
1. Discriminatory stereotypes reinforce violence
It was highlighted at the previous CEDAW session that the State should eliminate discriminatory stereotypes of LBTQ women from the media. However, the State has failed to act. Positive depictions of LBTQ characters continue to be barred. This promotes prejudice and deprives LBTQ persons of positive role models, affecting self-esteem and normalising rights abuses.
2. Promoting violence in education
State schools lack affirmative education and assistance for LBTQ women. Sex education is abstinence-based, giving inadequate information about consent and diverse sexualities. Educators fail to help LBTQ youth due to institutionalised homophobia. For example, a 15-year-old girl was sexually and psychologically abused by her girlfriend, but she did not recognise the violence, and her school counsellor put the blame on her instead.
3. State-sanctioned domestic violence
Family members frequently use psychological and physical violence on LBTQ persons. For instance, a lesbian was punched, slapped and kicked by her father until she urinated, fainted and sustained a concussion. Criminalisation in Penal Code Section 377A and social stigma prevent LBTQ persons from accessing protection and justice from violence by public and private actors. They also continue to be excluded from state policies.