Mary's View of S'pore - Vol 7, History

Mary's View of S'pore - Vol 7, History

I would like to share with you the knowledge and understanding of women's issues in Singapore. Yes, men must/should read this as well. It is very heartening and disheartening at the same time. I have been privileged to meet and work with some incredible women who have achieved an awful lot against some incredible odds. I feel very fortunate to be an American woman.

Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) was founded by a small group of women in 1985 in response to "The Great Marriage Debate." The story starts in the mid-60's. There was a population explosion which could cause major problems on an island of limited space. Sterilization was encouraged and abortion was legalized. This doesn't sound too bad. However, it had unintended side effects. Women actually had control over their bodies and their sexuality. As 2 children were supposed to be the limit, parents invested a great deal in the education of the children - even girls. This family planning program inadvertently raised the status of girls - oops. One big drawback (in the government's eyes) was that the higher educated women were having fewer and fewer children. - oops. The issue of "lopsided procreation" and the depletion of the gene pool became a major topic of discussion in the government. Do you believe this????? Thus was born the "Graduate Mother" policy. The third children of graduate mothers were given priority for school admission over less well educated mothers. This was negatively met by the population. Thus enters AWARE. The policy was rescinded in 1985.

A little bit of S'pore history (sorry!!). Until 1961 there was little or no women's rights. A Women's Charter was passed in 1961 that abolished polygamy (yes, you read that correctly), set up guidelines for maintenance of wives, and gave limited protection ot battered women and children. It was also stipulated that a woman could use her own name; engage in any trade, profession, etc.; enter into contracts on her own; sue and be sued in her own name; and acquire, hold or dispose of property The Women's Charter has been updated in 1995 and now has more stringent laws and procedures to deal with domestic violence and divorce. AWARE was instrumental in this process. Things are slowly but surely changing. However, there is a long way to go.

AWARE's general objectives are: 1) To promote the awareness and participation of women of all areas. 2) To promote the attainment of full equality, and 3) To promote equal opportunities for women. Some of the more highly publicized campaigns that AWARE has lead have been a "Media Alert" ( ads degrading women, etc) and the updating of the Women's Charter. Just recently AWARE had a display depicting the rapes that occurred in the May riots in Indonesia. A petition was also signed and sent to the Indonesian government and the UN Commission on war crimes and atrocities deploring these rapes. Forty thousand signatures were collected.

AWARE operates a Help line for women in crisis - operating hours M-F 4 - 10:00 p.m. They need more volunteers. There is a 3 month training class provided. I am one of the counselors that then see some of the women that call who need more individual help. Very interesting cultural issues to deal with - I'm learning a lot.

AWARE conducts research on issues concerning women in hopes of motivating changes in attitudes and assumptions which may be hindering women from their potential.

AWARE organizes self development talks, workshops, and courses on topics of interest to women. Financial planning is coming up. Training programs for computer literacy and basic literacy are also offered.

AWARE is funded by member's subscriptions and donations - no government funds. They need all the help they can get, especially in this time of economic uncertainty, so that they can continue to improve the life of Singaporean women.

Thanks for listening. Aren't we fortunate to live in the "Land of the Free" ? Maybe some other time I'll write on the employment and educational discrepancies as well as "Divorce Singapore Style".