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Statement of the Asian LBTQ Caucus – 8 December 2017 – Phnom Penh

Written by jean on . Posted in Advocacy

asian lbtq caucus statement

Sayoni was pleased to announce the successful Asian LBTQ Caucus consultation on 8 December 2017 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Along with ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Justice for Sisters, UN Women Asia Pacific, we facilitated a 2 day session on lesbian, bisexual and queer women’s issues from 4-5 December 2017, ahead of the ILGA Asia 2017 conference.

 

An estimated 60 participants joined in the discussions, personal story sharing, queer movement history mappings, and the distillation of key issues and concerns for lesbian, bisexual, trans women, trans men and queer (LBTQ) persons. Activists came from across Asia, including from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, Nepal, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The LBTQ Caucus was a first of its kind in Asia and took place due to the demands of LBTQ activists to address the consistent marginalization of LBQ women’s visibility and leadership within the wider movements for LGBTIQ+ human rights.

 

A collaborative statement was written to highlight core concerns and eleven recommendations on how to move forward towards strengthening movements for LBTQ rights across the region.

 

Statement of the Asian LBTQ CAUCUS*

 

8 December 2017 | Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

Lesbian, bisexual, trans women, trans men, and queer persons (LBTQ) exist in all of human diversity. Our issues and concerns cut across diverse groups and communities, including other marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, refugees, migrant workers, and indigenous peoples.

 

LBTQ persons experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in multiple spaces based on our assigned, actual, or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). We face arbitrary persecution, socio-economic marginalization, and violation of our self-determination, sexual autonomy, and bodily integrity because of our SOGIESC. Our experiences are often invisible, silenced, and unaddressed.

 

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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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's Letter to ST Forum on Sexual Abuse Article

Written by alina on . Posted in Advocacy


This is Sayoni's unpublished letter to the Straits Times Forum following its report on a transgender man who sexually abused a minor ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"). We feel strongly about this issue and hope that the mainstream media will strive for more accuracy and respect in its reports about LGBTQ persons. Thanks to all who contributed to the writing of this letter.

Using incorrect pronouns for transgender people reinforces stigma

Sexual abuse is a serious crime. We at Sayoni, a community of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, condemn it regardless of age and gender. The emotional and psychological effects of abuse can last many years. However, we find that the language used in the recent report ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"; Dec 8) is damaging to transgender people, reproducing negative stereotypes.

Firstly, describing the accused’s gender identity as ‘a bogus identity’ is inaccurate. According to the article, he has already been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and should, therefore, be identified using male pronouns or by his name.

Failing to do so misrecognises a transgender person’s chosen identity. It does not acknowledge that transgender people may have good reason not to reveal their sex at birth, such as facing potential rejection by partners or family members or discrimination and violence from members of society.

The choice of words also undermines the legitimacy of a transgender person’s family life. For instance, scare quotes are unnecessary when referring to the accused's partners and daughter. Diverse families that go beyond the traditional heterosexual structures are being formed every day. But these families lack the state assistance given to the conventional family unit, such as Personal Protection Orders against abusive partners.

Furthermore, is the accused’s gender identity relevant to a case of sexual assault of a minor? The real issue is the act of abuse, the harm to the child and the power imbalance between the minor and the adult.

Transgender people already face a disproportional amount of discrimination and violence in their lives. In our move to become an inclusive society that seeks to build strong families and communities, we caution against reporting that disparages transgender individuals. We hope that the media can present gender identity fairly and avoid further stigmatising an already marginalised group of people.

UPR Statement by Sayoni at UPR Pre-Session

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Advocacy

Sayoni's Jean (right) with We Believe in Second Chances at the UPR Pre-session.
Sayoni's Jean (right) with We Believe in Second Chances at the UPR Pre-session.

STATEMENT by SAYONI
On behalf of the LGBTQ communities in Singapore
UPR Pre-Session, Geneva, 16th December 2015


Dear representatives of the Permanent Missions,

1- Presentation of the Organisation

This statement is delivered on behalf of SAYONI, a queer women’s group which works to organise and advocate for the human rights of all LGBTQ persons based in Singapore. Sayoni submitted two UPR reports to this session. First, together with a coalition of 10 civil society groups named the ‘Alliance of Like-minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS) as a civil society stakeholder to highlight the intersectional discrimination of LGBTQ individuals in the civil and political space. Second, with a coalition of international LGBTQ organisations and national groups to point out the systematic discrimination faced by LGBTQ persons in Singapore


2-
National consultations for the drafting of the national report

There were one grassroots open consultation held in January 2015 by Sayoni and about 30 individuals and groups attended. There were two national consultations held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which approximately 20 NGOs attended. A third subsequent dialogue session was arranged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the civil society coalition I am part of, ALMOS.


3-
Plan of the Statement

The statement will address:

I. Criminalisation of consensual sex between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code in Singapore

II. The right to freedom of expression - Media censorship, disallowing neutral or positive portrayal of LGBTQ persons

III. The right to freedom of association - To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations with the authorities as a Society or Non-Profit Organisation

IV. The right to family life for LGBTQ persons

V. Rights of Transgender people

VI. Workplace discrimination


4-
Statement

I. Section 377A of the Penal Code

A. Follow-up to the first review

In the first cycle of the UPR, France raised the question of the abolishment of the provisions of the Penal Code related to private relations between consenting adults, which was noted by the state of Singapore. Similarly, the issues related to sexual orientation were raised by the UK, and in advance by Canada, Ireland and The Netherlands.


B.
New developments since the last review

In reply, the state has consistently stated that there is no discrimination towards LGBTQ persons in Singapore and Section 377A has not been proactively enforced. We think that the state is being misleading and ignoring the cascading and intersectional effects of 377A.

Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code criminalises "acts of gross indecency" between men, including sodomy, and imposes a term of up to 2 years' imprisonment. The section applies specifically to men, and may be applied regardless of whether those acts are committed in public or private spaces. The continuing criminalisation of sexual activity between men, together with the legislative and administrative framework of discrimination against LGBT persons, constitutes violations by Singapore of a number of rights under international human rights law, including the right to privacy and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

In October 2014, the Singaporean Court of Appeal ruled to uphold the constitutionality of Section 377A of the Penal Code. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, international non-governmental organisations and Singaporean LGBT groups have expressed dissatisfaction at the Court's decision. Despite government claims that 377A will not be enforced, gay men continue to live under the threat of harassment and enforcement of this section. It also influences public policy formulation that discriminates against the entire LGBT community.


C.
Recommendations

Repeal legal provisions criminalising sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex

II. Right to Freedom of Expression - Media Censorship

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
Developments since the first review

The Media Development Authority Act, the Films Act and the Broadcasting Act empower the Media Development Authority (MDA) to ban, classify and, through licensing, restrict the content of various media. The MDA effectuates these powers through conditions attached to licences that it issues, and through published "guidelines" which include prohibitions and restrictions on material with LGBT characters and themes. E.g. film and free-to-air television classification guidelines say: "Films should not promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle. However, non-exploitative and non-explicit depictions of sexual activity between two persons of the same gender may be considered for R21" (R21 means viewings restricted to adults of 21 years and above).

In practice, these guidelines are treated as binding rather than advisory and are interpreted in risk-averse ways, with films and television programmes containing LGBT themes and characters censored or restricted even when no sex is involved, either by the MDA itself or by producers required to abide by the MDA's licence conditions.

Depictions of LGBT characters in a normal or positive light, or any speech that advocates for their dignity and rights are routinely cut out or barred. The result of this stereotypical, negative and skewed depiction is a perpetuation of prejudice and stigma to the public of the LGBT community. Such censorship policy also means that LGBT persons are deprived of positive role models in the media, reinforcing low self-esteem and rendering them accepting of discrimination and rights abuses.


C.
Recommendations

We therefore urge that the continued practice of state-sponsored censorship in the media to be raised during the upcoming UPR, and that the following recommendations are made. To:

· Remove all censorship policies/guidelines that allow for the discriminatory treatment of LGBT-related material and viewpoints

· Ratify ICCPR, in which Article 19 protects the right to the freedom of expression.


III.
The right to freedom of association. To allow legal registration of LGBTIQ organisations

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

The Societies Act gives discretionary power to the Registrar of Societies to approve or disapprove a society (defined as any group with ten or more persons), with appeals against his decision directed to the minister in charge. The Societies Act does not require the Registrar or the minister to give reasons for whatever decision they make. Section 14 of this Act defines any unregistered society as an "unlawful society" whose leaders and members are liable to criminal prosecution.

LGBT groups were denied registration by the Registrar of Societies and given reasons like "contrary to the national interest" as response. No elaboration was given on how LGBT interests could be contrary to the national interest. In recent years, LGBT organizations have also not been allowed to register as non-profit organisations and given the same reason. Thus, LGBT groups operate under the threat of arrest and prosecution. Even without such clampdowns, the lack of legal status means an inability to self-actualise, organise or raise funds in any organised way, and denial of access to mainstream media as well as other public or private services wary of giving legitimacy to unregistered groups.


C.
Recommendations

· Allow registration of LGBT-related groups under the Societies Act or as non-profit organisations.

· Ratify ICCPR, in which Article 22 protects the right to freedom of association.


IV.
The right to family life - Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter that defines marriage as between a man and a woman

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

Neither the law nor the state recognises same-sex relationships. Even marriages contracted in other jurisdictions between same-sex partners are specifically not recognised in Singapore. Under Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, this has been a major cause of discrimination and lack of protection as experienced by same-sex couples and those in transnational same-sex marriages in Singapore. In particular, legally married transnational same-sex couples have not been able to stay in the same country as their legal spouse.

Consequently, many benefits and rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples are denied to same-sex couples. These include employee benefits that extend to spouses, medical visitation and next-of-kin rights, rights to purchase subsidised public housing from the state and tax breaks for married couples.

Children born in same-sex families do not enjoy the same rights, benefits or tax breaks as other children since the legal standard is applied to them as a single parent. These children do not enjoy the same legal rights and hence have no way to be legally cared for and maintained by the non-legal parent, the right to have guaranteed continuity in the event of separation of the same-sex couple or the death of the legal parent, or even to acquire kinship with the non-legal parent.


C.
Recommendations

· Amend Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter and permit registration of same-sex marriages.

· Enact general legislation on recognition and protection of rights and duties of same-sex partners.

· Enact general legislation on recognition and protection of rights of children from same-sex households.

V. Rights of Transgender people

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B.
New developments since the last review

The National Registration Act requires each citizen to be issued with an identity card and to have recorded such details as the Commissioner of National Registration requires. This includes one's sex and race.

The administrative practice is that a transgender person has their sex at birth recorded on the identity card even when the person clearly identifies with and presents themselves as someone of the opposite gender. The “sex” entry on the identity card, and by extension the passport, is not changed unless the individual can prove that he or she has undergone the full scope of sex-reassignment surgery.

For the majority of transgender people, this is neither affordable, practicable, nor wanted. The result is a life lived in contradiction, between their documented sex and lived gender. The state issued identity card thus becomes an instrument by the state and others to inflict social humiliation. Furthermore, while transgender people have been identified as a key affected population by UNAIDS and the WHO, statistics on HIV/AIDS in Singapore are not disaggregated for transgender people. This results in policies and services not being sensitised to the particular needs and behaviours of transgender men and women.


C.
Recommendations

· Issue Identity Cards that correctly identify the chosen sex for the transgender person without proof of surgery through an effective and fast administrative procedure.

· Focus on more targeted public health interventions for transgender men and transgender women by first identifying and disaggregating the national HIV data for this specific group.

VI. Workplace discrimination

A. Follow-up to the first review

There was no recommendation made in the first cycle on this issue.


B. New developments since the last review

  • Workers face significant widespread employment discrimination on the bases of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status and disability. With limited exceptions, there is no legal duty for employers not to discriminate and workers facing discrimination have no legal right to redress.
  • The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) and the Ministry of Manpower may receive complaints from workers, but TAFEP has no enforcement powers and the Ministry acts on a purely discretionary basis.


C. Recommendations

  • Enact legislation
    • (i) to prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or disability;
    • (ii) to form a specialised employment tribunal to adjudicate complaints arising under this legislation; and
    • (iii) to prescribe that contraventions of this duty of non-discrimination carry civil liability for compensatory damages.

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