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Keeping Singapore's LBQ Spaces Alive

Written by editor on . Posted in Events

Panelists speaking at Sayoni's event at independent bookstore The Moon.
By Natasha Sadiq

On 28th October, almost 60 women turned up to attend a panel discussion organised by Sayoni titled "Where Are All the LBQ Spaces?". The event was held at The Moon, an almost ethereal café-bookstore initially conceived of by its owner as a space for women, by women.

The panel comprised four speakers: Kim from Two Queens Asia, Norah from She+Pride, Tiffany from The Bi+ Collective and Alina from Sayoni, and the session was moderated by Leanna, a Sayoni volunteer. Here are three highlights from the discussion:

1. There is no one way to define and construct LBQ spaces

When the speakers were asked about why their groups were formed, a common reason was echoed: to create safe spaces for LBQ women. However, their motivations differed.

Sayoni was formed just as online communities appeared. Its online forums allowed LBQ women to communicate in relative anonymity, which then provided a platform for women to safely take their interactions offline.

For Tiffany, The Bi+ Collective was initially a way for her to make friends. She built a community where she could meet individuals who were like her, without having to feel like she was not gay or straight enough. Two Queens was formed simply for women to have fun through parties, and not necessarily discuss cerebral or existential issues.

It was not just the reasons behind the creation of these spaces which differed. During the Q&A session, an audience member suggested that LBQ spaces do not necessarily have to be rigid in form. She introduced the concept of collaborating with adjacent spaces, somewhere that is physically near to an LBQ space but not exactly like it. It may be more sustainable to go beyond creating exclusive LBQ spaces and look into how conventional spaces can accommodate LBQ women, she said.

2. The only way that LBQ spaces can be kept alive is for people to occupy those spaces

A considerable segment of the event revolved around understanding why LBQ spaces are so limited, and why they were disappearing. Norah said that people in the United States were open with their sexuality, and may not need a physical safe space. She also suggested considering the possibility that women do not spend as much as men. Indeed, spaces devoted exclusively to LBQ women have to maintain a balance between restricting their patronage and being economically viable.

Kim added that although Two Queens is a commercial entity, it does not make a lot of money. As the "scene" changes and LBQ women express different tastes and preferences, the financial viability of LBQ spaces is also affected. Tiffany expressed similar concerns, saying that The Bi+ Collective relies on limited contributions. One solution presented by Alina is to ensure that temporary spaces like the Internet thrive, despite limited permanent physical spaces.

Whatever its form, a space can only serve its purpose if an occupant engages and negotiates with it. For this to happen, we need to show up. Kim talked about her experience having organised an all-girls’ party at a club, which was eventually attended by only 50 ladies. It was not the most encouraging experience. In this case, two is not company, and three sure isn’t a crowd (neither is 50!).

An LBQ space does not exist in and of itself. LBQ women’s experiences also help to define the space. Participating in dialogues and indicating our interest on Facebook is important, but what is critical to the survival of LBQ spaces is for us to actually be present.
keeping lbq spaces alive 2
3. Visibility is not just about being out, loud and proud

Norah emphasised the importance of visibility. For example, She+Pride’s events are held in public spaces. She said, “People cannot see us as scared… we cannot be hiding.”

Indeed, some of us are more comfortable with our sexuality. But others may not be. LBQ spaces are important not just as political acts of protest but also as spaces for affirmation and healing. As one audience member mentioned, LBQ women do not have to say anything in these spaces, they can just “soak in the atmosphere”.

Norah’s notion of visibility still applies. Visibility isn’t just about coming out and staying out. Visibility is also about easing into yourself as an LBQ woman. It is primarily about seeing yourself, and not necessarily being seen by others. LBQ spaces would fail to serve their function if we are not visible to ourselves.

However, visibility is important not just for the community but also those outside of it. Though a painful process, visibility helps to develop acceptance in society. Visibility is also important because without it, there is no way to catch the attention of those who need LBQ spaces most. Kim spoke about how Two Queens has had to tread carefully when it comes to marketing its all-girls events. From her experience, there are people bent on ensuring that public spaces are free of the “gay agenda”.

At the core of it, a space is only what we make it out to be. As Norah said during the discussion, it is not fair for the community to rely on the same people to maintain LBQ spaces. Hence, it is important for us to strengthen the existing spaces that we have. It is not just a question of how many LBQ spaces we have, but more importantly, the degree of our interactions with these spaces.

Successful Advocacy for Protection of LBTQ Rights in Singapore at CEDAW Session

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Advocacy

CEDAW Committee having an exchange with Singapore officials.

In October 2017, Singapore government officials who were in Geneva, Switzerland, to report on gender equality in the nation met an unexpected barrage of questions on the situation of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other queer (LBTQ) women. In response, the officials evaded the questions, denied that there was discrimination, and insisted that LBTQ women were not discriminated against. But the women’s rights experts who asked the questions had clearly heard the voices of Sayoni and our civil society allies. Among their list of recommendations for Singapore, published a month later, was a section devoted to LBTQ and intersex women, recommending that the Singapore government put in place laws and policies to protect this group, including its media policies.

This was a landmark move from the group of independent experts, who are elected to serve four-year terms and convene to review the progress of states that have signed the treaty. The Singapore government ratified CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), a United Nations treaty, in 1995 and has regularly submitted reports on measures it has taken to implement gender equality within the country according to the CEDAW framework. 

However, LBTQ issues are not always included in Concluding Observations, and when they are, they are seldom given wide, overarching treatment. Hence, Sayoni is pleased that the experts were able to recognise our point that LBTQ women are subject to intersecting forms of discrimination and efforts must be made to specifically ensure protections for this minority group. We hope that the government is similarly able to acknowledge the discrepancies that need to be redressed and takes steps to equalise laws and policies for all women.

Sayoni engaged in a host of advocacy efforts leading up to the fifth review of Singapore in 2017. Five years ago, we documented evidence of violence and discrimination among LBTQ women in a multi-year project that we plan to release in report format. This evidence informed the shadow report that we submitted to the CEDAW Committee to supplement information from the government report. We were also proud to be part of a coalition of civil society groups (“Many Voices, One Movement”) that submitted a comprehensive coalition shadow report highlighting important issues to the CEDAW Committee, including the concerns of migrant workers, sex workers, and Muslim women.

In October 2017, representatives from Sayoni travelled to Geneva to personally lobby the CEDAW Committee, as we had done during the last cycle in 2011. Members of the committee were very receptive to our points and brought up most of them during the session with Singapore state representatives. These questions were further condensed for the final document in the form of recommendations for Singapore.

The following recommendations on LBTQ women are excerpted from the Concluding Observations:

Education

27.    The Committee recommends that the State party:

(c)    Address negative stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes with regard to the sexuality of adolescents.

Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women

40.    The Committee expresses concern that lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women face discrimination in various areas of life, and that their situation is often exacerbated by the policies of the State party, including its media policy.

41.    The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women are effectively protected against all forms of discrimination in law and in practice, including by undertaking educational and awareness-raising campaigns to combat discriminatory stereotypes, including in its media policies.

Links

Media Advisory on 2017 CEDAW Report

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Advocacy

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Media Advisory

23 October 2017

Sayoni’s 2017 CEDAW Shadow Report on Singapore shows recommendations not heeded, obligations not fulfilled in ending discrimination against LBTQ women

Geneva, Switzerland − 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 has 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. It highlights pertinent issues concerning institutional discrimination against LBTQ women and transgender men in Singapore.

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.

Submitted to the CEDAW Committee at the United Nations, the evidence-based report’s recommendations 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:

  1. 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 identity.
  2. Move beyond broad rhetoric and take concrete action to effect substantive and material changes towards eliminating institutional discrimination against LBTQ women.
  3. Sincerely collaborate with non-state organisations to raise awareness and protection of LBTQ women from discrimination and abuse.

About Sayoni
Established in Singapore in 2006, Sayoni is a community committed to empowering queer women.

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Contact
For enquiries and interviews, please email Jean Chong at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sayoni Camp: An Enduring Journey Crafted for Women by Women

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Sayoni Camp

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This year, Sayoni Camp offers the opportunity to get in touch with yourself and start a journey to becoming your intrinsic, authentic self.

Do the words authentic self, emotional self, life position, resilience, well-anchored, contentment and presence stir something in you? If so, this camp is for you. Get to know the self. Be empowered with insight into how you have been automatically operating. Transform your current life position and get to a place you desire to be.

Self-discovery is also about fun. We promise excitement and loads of laughter if you are willing to come play with us! You will be in the company of like-minded women in an atmosphere created for self-discovery. Previous campers have raved about the surprises and joys they have experienced – you can too.

This camp will be led by two facilitators and supported by volunteers who are devoted to the empowerment of women. Much effort and heart has gone into planning this to create a safe, conducive environment for your fun and growth.

Click here to find out more about the camp! Sign up before 30 June 2016 to enjoy an early bird discount.

Sayoni Camp 2016

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Announcements

Sayoni Camp is back! Our self-development getaway will run from 6-8 August 2016. Make new friends, have fun in the sun, and enjoy a journey of discovery!

We aim to provide a fun-filled and meaningful experience for all campers. Our goal is to promote self-development and growth.

We welcome all queer women to join us for an unforgettable weekend getaway. Limited early bird rate ends 30 June.

Update: Thanks to all participants and facilitators for a meaningful, fun-filled camp!

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