The late African-American poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said, “So try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue and inertia and timidity. Take up the battle. Take it up. It’s yours. This is your life. This is your world.”
This recalls a few of the candidates contesting in this election. They have come into the contest bringing with them their markedly different lived experiences as part of minority groups in Singapore.
It has been most interesting to see the entry into alternative parties of young, Malay/ Muslim women. One of them is Liyana Dhamirah who is standing in Jurong GRC under Red Dot United (RDU), the newest political party to be registered before the GE was called.
At 33 and a mother of four, Liyana is one of the new faces of Singapore’s electoral politics. With her candidacy, she hopes to empower and inspire more women from all walks of life to step forward and participate in politics. She also wishes to see more diversity in the country’s top leadership.
A millennial, Liyana Dhamirah has lived quite a life. She was once homeless, but with great determination and an innovative spirit, Liyana became an entrepreneur. She recently authored a book Homeless: The Untold Story of a Mother’s Struggle in Crazy Rich Singapore in which she shared the story of her struggle.
As she told TOC, empathy and inequality are issues close to her heart. Having experienced Singapore’s welfare system both as a recipient and a befriender, Liyana thinks that the system has room for improvement.
“I have witnessed how other marginalized families go through the same pain as I had. There are many flaws still and there is so much more that can be done to achieve more and better for our fellow citizens,” she said.
In addition, she is also concerned about Singapore’s post-pandemic recovery. She expresses interest in socio-economic issues such as the rising cost of living and the issue of employment and employment discrimination in Singapore.
“I remember the feeling of being discriminated against when I tried to get back into the workforce 3 years after my 3rd childbirth and I was also going through divorce,” shared Liyana on the issue of job seeking.
“At that same time, I made the deeply personal decision to adorn the hijab. Apart from the usual “Speak & read Mandarin” criteria in job listing which disqualified me immediately, I remember interviewing for a Patient Service Associate position at one of the government hospitals here where I was asked if I am prepared to remove my hijab if they are to offer me the position.”
When asked, the manager gave Liyana the reason that according to studies done, long hours of wearing the hijab in a hospital exposes the wearer to germs which then carries the risk of her bringing diseases to her family.
“I rejected the offer of course and never felt more humiliated. It was worse compared to when I was homeless,” she said of her experience.
When asked what made her interested to volunteer and join RDU instead of the People’s Action Party (PAP), she recounted her experience with a Member of Parliament from the PAP in 2019.
“He was 30 minutes late for our appointment and being 8 months pregnant at that time, I had to exercise a lot of patience. After that meeting, I took a couple of months to mull over what was proposed to me during that dinner, also in a few other meetings after – the thought of having the chance to serve the people on a larger scale is very appealing to me,” she admitted.
However, upon months of reflection, she felt that whatever discussed were “merely words with no concrete actions”. She then took the initiative to follow up, but soon discovered that the MP will be moving to another constituency, and thus whatever was discussed came to naught.
“So when Ravi approached me in May 2020 and mentioned about RDU, getting to know Michelle, the party’s values (I love it when it is in an acronym, ‘FAITH’ for Fairness, Accountability, Integrity, Transparency and Happiness, Hope and Heart) and witnessing how fast the founding members work, I felt more compelled to serve the people of Singapore alongside them.”
Liyana has not looked back since. While her mother, who is in her late 50s, remains cautious about Liyana joining the opposition and has advised her to be careful, her own family has been supportive.
“My children and my husband are the most supportive – my eldest son and my husband told me that they perceived RDU as underdogs!” she beamed.
We wish Liyana and RDU the very best with their campaigning and on Polling Day.