After the online movement #metoo papered social media feeds with women’s experiences of sexual violence, the Let’s Unite campaign, led by gender equality group AWARE, invites the public to start taking collective action to end violence against women.
Organised in view of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (25 November to 10 December), Let’s Unite encourages supporters to take pledges for change, whether as individuals, community groups or organisations. The campaign will also showcase local efforts to end violence against women through its online hashtag #16DaysSG.
Kicking off the conversation are three women who will share their experiences of recovery from sexual violence at a dialogue session on Saturday. Bloomberg will also run a talk on employer responsibility on managing workplace harassment in December.
“When survivors of violence courageously open up about their experiences, we have a responsibility to listen and create a community of support for them that is free of mistrust, blame and shame,” said Anisha Joseph who manages AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), which recently saw a spike in cases when conversations about sexual violence were rampant (58 cases were logged in October, compared to this year’s monthly average of 37). “We must also do the difficult but important work of transforming our own attitudes to prevent violence against women from happening in the first place.”
She continued, "But we can't just stop at individual change. Community and religious leaders should actively promote values of anti-violence, while institutions should create workplace and campus cultures that push for gender equality. The government should take action, too, by beefing up existing laws, practices and policies in view of Singapore's latest CEDAW review, which calls for training of relevant professionals - from judiciary and police to doctors - to better understand gender-based violence.”
CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) is a United Nations treaty which Singapore has signed. UN experts recently issued recommendations for the Singapore government on correcting gender inequality, including how to protect survivors of violence and prevent gender-based violence.
Let’s Unite kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, with an open dialogue - #metoo, #nowwhat - that delves into the reality of violence against women in Singapore and what individuals can do, and have done, to end it.
Three women will share their own experiences of and recovery from sexual violence. One of them, Devika Satheesh, spoke about her motivation to share her story publicly: “As someone who experienced sexual violence as a child, I grew up feeling confused and believing that I was one of the few who had this unfortunate experience. But the more I opened up to people, the more people opened up to me. Literally every woman I've shared my experience with opened up to me about the violence they have experienced as well. I made it my mission to utilise every opportunity possible to raise awareness and lead dialogues about violence against women. It is not a myth, it is more common than many realise, and it is time we do something about it.”
Employers and industry leaders are also stepping up to address harassment in the workplace. On 4 December, Bloomberg, together with TSMP Law Corporation and AWARE’s corporate training arm, Catalyse Consulting, will hold a panel discussion “How will you handle your Harveys?” where experts will share best practices for creating a safe work environment and managing workplace harassment.
Said Hayden Majajas, Bloomberg’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion (APAC), “The issue of workplace harassment has recently received more spotlight, but it’s an ongoing issue that we all need to address urgently. We are pleased to provide the forum for important topics like this and to bring together best practice operators so all employers can ensure our workplaces are safe spaces for everyone, regardless of gender or other differences. This panel session organised with AWARE’s Catalyse Consulting and TSMP Law Corporation is timely and we look forward to helping companies take concrete action to address workplace issues.”
The campaign also calls on state leaders to take a stand. MP Louis Ng, who is no stranger to highlighting issues concerning gender equality and discrimination, also spoke in support of the campaign. He said, “To create a society where women have equal opportunities and respect, there must be zero tolerance for violence against women. We can start by improving how society supports survivors of violence, and understand that all of us - not just women - have a responsibility to promote gender equality.”
Supportive members of the public can also overlay their social media profile pictures with the Let’s Unite frame and post a message of support with the hashtag #16DaysSG. Other supporters of the campaign include NGOs HOME, Project X and Action for AIDS.