My friend and I had a discussion about the focus of modern day liberal feminism and we both agree that it has strayed too far from its original roots.
Instead of promoting equal rights and opportunities for women, AWARE has now morphed into this ugly organisation which seems hell-bent on attacking women who hold conservative viewpoints and believe in family values. Why is there so much focus on keeping our liberal abortion laws and time limits instead of saving young baby girls who are in danger of being aborted? Why is there so much emphasis on the gay agenda instead of combating promiscuity? Why is there no lobby for stronger protection for maids?
Because of AWARE’s choice to emphasise certain issues, I am now reluctant to call myself a feminist because I do not want to be lumped together with the AWARE crowd. The feminism I fell in love with was the one that fought for justice, fairness and equity; the one that championed the cause of the oppressed and downtrodden; the one that spoke up for those who could not speak for themselves. Now, the modern day trend of most feminist groups seems to be headed in the opposite direction by ignoring the true victims and cowering them into silence.
Here are some topics that will hopefully serve as a reminder of what issues AWARE should be highlighting and fighting against:
1) Mutilation of Women: Bibi Aisha (Aesha Mohammadzai) is a brave young woman from Afghanistan who was forced into an arranged marriage at 12 and tried to run away from her abusive husband and in-laws when she was 18 years old. She was eventually caught by the Taliban who saw fit to punish her by disfigurement – cutting off her nose and ears. Connected to this issue is of course the entire controversy of practice of female genital mutilation – an unspeakable horror that should have been abolished long ago.
2) Maid Abuse: Sumiati Bte Salan Mustapa, a 23-year-old Indonesian maid who suffered much abuse from her employers, including having her lips cut off and her back burned with an iron. Because of shocking cases like these, certain activist groups in Indonesia want their government to stop sending its citizens to Saudi Arabia to work as maids. Closer to home, horrible cases of maid abuse – specifically Singaporean employers physically and sexually abusing their foreign maids – are sadly more prevalent than they ought to be. On top of this, another distressing fact is that most of the abuse of women are carried out by women!
3) (Honour) Killings/Murder: The tragic case of Surjit Athwal and many other innocent women are a stark reminder that while we live in the 21st Century, such barbaric practices of violence against women have not completely disappeared. Unfortunately, to add salt to the wound, many liberal feminist groups, including AWARE, rarely talk about honour killings and ironically choose to spend the bulk of their energy and resources to promote the murder of baby girls. It has been proven that abortion is a powerful form of gendercide, shrinking the global female population at an alarming rate but AWARE prefers to cover this inconvenient fact up with language of choice and reproductive rights. As if it could ever be a right to kill another human being.
4) Sex Trafficking: Like maid abuse, this problem is sadly more rampant than it should be. The scores of Indonesian, Thai, Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Vietnamese girls and women operating in the back-lanes of Geylang definitely fall within the category of marginalised women and yet very little is being said about them or done for them. While there have been government initiatives and polio crackdowns, it is surprising that the ‘leading gender equality advocacy group’ has done nothing to help these women and girls while they are in Singapore. The only organisations actively reaching out to these women (providing food, shelter and counselling) are Christian and faith-based organisations, which is should be an embarrassment for an anti-religious group like AWARE.
Here’s a radical idea: Instead of championing the rights of women to have the ‘freedom to love’, AWARE should concentrate their energies on alleviating the plight of trafficked teenaged girls in Geylang suffering from the crippling effects of poverty and prostitution. Instead of arguing passionately for mothers to be allowed to kill their babies up until the 6th month of pregnancy, AWARE should work with religious charities and organisations to help single mothers and women who want to keep their children. Instead of constantly harping on the glass ceiling in the corporate world, AWARE should take some time out of its busy schedule to work towards eradicating the problem of maid abuse in Singapore.
Poverty is admittedly an intractable problem that will probably never be completely solved in our lifetime, but this does not mean give us an excuse to stand idly by and let the foreigners in our country be abused and mistreated. They deserve to be accorded the same basic human rights and dignity as Singaporean workers, no more no less. After all, in another time and place, these women could have been your mother, sister or daughter.
While it is understandable that AWARE probably wishes to focus on issues more pertinent to women in Singapore, I cannot understand they choose devote so much time and energy to promoting abortion, pre-marital sex (promiscuity) and homosexuality when there are far more obvious and significant issues to focus on. More benefit to women, both direct and indirect, can be generated by combating abortion, maid abuse and illegal prostitution in Singapore, or even by raising awareness about honour killings and female genital mutilation in other countries. All these are extremely heavy-weight issues with a wide-reaching impact, and should form the core of AWARE’s objectives if AWARE truly cares about the interests of women.
We need far-reaching, comprehensive change in Singapore; we need to make a conscious stand against violence and discrimination in our society, so that women and girls everywhere will not have to suffer abuse or indignity. And this can begin with a radical redirection of the current trend of AWARE’s advocacy efforts.