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Sayoni at ILGA-Asia Conference 2019

Written by Mandy on . Posted in Activism

ilga asia conference 2019 1

On 19th to 23rd August 2019, Sayoni attended the ILGA Asia Regional Conference held in Seoul, South Korea. This year, the conference focused on the theme of "Building Alliances to Strengthen the Community", which saw over 300 participants from 30 countries, including Lebanon, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. It was the first time I attended a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) conference, and it was undoubtedly an inspiring and exciting experience.

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On the first day, the first ever lesbian pre-conference at ILGA Asia was held. It served as a safe space to address the multiple and intersecting human rights challenges lesbians face. I shared about the violence and discrimination faced by LBTQ women in Singapore with fellow participants, and it comes as no surprise that similar issues are pervasive and pertinent in most countries around the region. In many Asian countries, patriarchal constructions of the family and gender roles contribute to the oppression of LBTQ women in both public and private spheres. Given the lack of space and representation for lesbians in both the LGBTIQ and feminist movements, it was a heartening experience to build solidarity and learn from fellow lesbian activists. 

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The second day also saw another first -- the first youth pre-conference at ILGA Asia, organized by Youth Voices Count, a LGBTIQ youth-led network for the Asia Pacific region. On top of the stigma and discrimination young persons face for being LGBTIQ, youths are also vulnerable to specific forms of social, financial and political disadvantage, which impacts their life chances, especially during their formative years. This calls for the need to be more youth-inclusive, since advocacy spaces often lack youth representation. During the youth pre-conference, I spoke on a panel, "Building the LGBTIQ Youth Movement in Asia", where I shared about the work Sayoni, in collaboration with The Bi+ Collective Singapore, has done on documenting the experiences of LGBTIQ youths through our report for the UN Convention on Rights of the Child.

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During the main conference, I was also on a panel discussion, moderated by Jean from Sayoni and Outright International, regarding "Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence against LGBT Persons in Asia". Besides sharing about the issues faced in Singapore, such as the gaps in reporting and protection against domestic violence for LBTQ persons, it was also a great opportunity for me to learn from the other panelists working in the Philippines, China, and Taiwan, which gave me many insights to reflect on.

Working on LGBTIQ activism in Singapore can feel like an immense struggle most of the time, given the challenges, restrictions and disappointments we face. But attending the ILGA Asia Regional Conference reminded me that we aren't alone and isolated; it is a struggle that goes beyond our nation's borders. Although LGBTIQ rights have improved in Asian countries over the recent years, such as decriminalization of homosexuality in India and legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, many of our communities continue to face widespread discrimination and persecution. ILGA Asia provided a much-needed space for LGBTIQ activists in Asia to strengthen solidarity and continue the fight for a united and resilient regional movement.

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

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Activism

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:


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.


Sayoni at 2015 ILGA-Asia Conference

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Activism

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Several Sayoni volunteers attended the 2015 ILGA-Asia regional conference held in Taipei, Taiwan, from 28-30 October this year. Besides learning from other Asian activists at the formal sessions, we also took the opportunity to share strategies and ideas in informal settings. This year's conference coincided with Taipei's 2015 Pride Parade, the largest pride march in the region.

It was the first time that this lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) conference was held in Taiwan. Co-organised by the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, the conference saw 300 activists from 30 countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Malaysia and Singapore. Over a period of three days, activists held talks and workshops about the work they were doing within their organisations and regionally.

IGLHRC's In Their Own Words Series

Written by alina on . Posted in Activism

Brian Tofte-Schumacher of IGLHRC sat down with Raksha Mahtani of Sayoni, a Singapore-based group that organizes and advocates for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women’s issues. Mahtani is a volunteer coordinating a human rights documentation project on violence and discrimination. The interview took place in NYC, during her visit for the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women conference in March. Mahtani, 26, has represented Sayoni at the newly formed Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Caucus, the ASEAN People's Forum and the ASEAN Youth Forum. Before volunteering for Sayoni, Mahtani worked with AWARE, a gender equality organization in Singapore.

Q: What would you say are the biggest challenges for LGBT people in Singapore?

A: I think some of the biggest challenges are quite personal. I think that's a big narrative in Singapore because the society is already multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and generally conservative in that many don't see being LGBT as “natural” or “normal” or “acceptable.” So often because of this, LGBT people are demonized, vilified, and seen as “things” to be corrected. People come out to their families and risk being subjected to corrective therapy or reparative counseling, often involving religious leaders. These can happen in the private sphere, and go unnoticed by most.

Read the full interview here. Sayoni's research project is ongoing and scheduled to be released next year. Thank you to all who have generously shared their stories.


In Search of the American Dream

Written by alina on . Posted in Activism

Rainbow crossing in San Francisco's Castro district


The US has shaped global LGBT history and culture in many ways. In some states, same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws exist, yet LGBT-related violence is not unheard of. So it was with great curiosity that I travelled to the US as a Sayoni representative, one of 19 participants from as many countries participating in an International Visitor Leadership Program exchange.

Our specific programme focused on civic engagement. The group received an overview of the US political system and, through a series of meetings, a better understanding of how its civil society organisations and government agencies advocate for civil and human rights. The journey took me to four states, Washington DC, South Carolina, Utah and California, with a final stop in San Francisco.

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