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Advocacy for UN Child Rights Convention: Reflections Part 1

Written by Tiffany on . Posted in Advocacy

Hello from Geneva! Some background and context as to why I am in Geneva right now: I recently worked on a report on pressing issues surrounding LGBTQ+ children and youths in Singapore with Sayoni as part of an additional submission to the United Nations Child Rights Committee (UNCRC) prior to their review of the Singapore state (which is happening 16th/17th May). I am currently representing both Sayoni and The Bi+ Collective SG, and will be attending the reviews on both days in Geneva. These are just some reflections from my experiences of the first two days in Geneva...


14th May, Tuesday / ILGA and Old Town

I got lost the moment I stepped out of the Geneva airport (I was careless and took the wrong bus because I was unsure as to which direction I was taking towards). While stranded in the middle of an empty one-way street with no Internet for a minute or two, in many ways I saw that as symbolic of how I felt - uncertain, anxious, filled with the not-knowing. At the same time, I knew that underlying layers of fear was a lot of excitement and zealousness as well.

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The first day in Geneva, I got the opportunity to visit the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) office and had the chance to have a short chat with Kseniya and Zhan. Kseniya is a senior officer in Women and UN Advocacy, while Zhan is a Gender Identity and Gender Expression Senior Programme Officer. Kseniya and Zhan were wonderful (and so friendly)! They offered me useful tips on how I could best approach the review session and discussed some strategies to help with the lobbying. For instance, cutting down on our prepared questions to pick only a few to pinpoint what the most important questions are, as well as who I could potentially approach amongst the committee members. They also spoke about how it'd be beneficial to think of something more "positive" the government had done for the LGBTQ+ community (like allowing some LGBTQ+ organisations to be registered officially) and use those examples to show how the State can and should do more and that all they need is a push from the UN. When they first asked me about what "positive" things the government had done for the LGBTQ+ community, my mind was almost empty, except for (unfortunately) Ong Ye Kung's voice saying that there's "no discimination" of LGBTQ+ folks in Singapore. Other than speaking about the review, we both mutually shared more about the LGBTQ+ culture in our various communities. Both Kseniya and Zhan were mortified when I mentioned a little about some LGBTQ+ youth experiences we had uncovered from our focus group discussions and my own experiences of working with queer youths (like teachers/schools checking for binders, or not allowing students to hug one another for fear of the "spread of lesbianism"). I left Zhan and Kseniya and took with me lots of helpful information, motivation and gratitude, but I also left behind some packets of chicken rice paste and peanut candy.

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I walked along Lake Geneva after, made friends with some ducks and swans, and tried my hardest to not be blown away by the strong winds. Before I knew it, I had made my way to the Old Town, and Geneva honestly has some of the most beautiful buildings ever! I spent most of my evening that day letting myself get lost in between alleyways, chancing upon cathedral after cathedral (each of them more stunning than the last) and feeling the endearingly uneven roads beneath the soles of my shoes.

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15th May, Wednesday / Broken chair, UN tour and Malta CRC Review

I woke up this morning with more uncertainty, anxiety and tired feet. I think a lot of my stress from this morning was mostly because I just didn't know how the review was structured and unsure how it was supposed to play out, so with encouragement from Ryan (who is the Regional Coordinator of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and also someone who is helping me a lot this trip - thanks Ryan!!) I decided I wanted to attend the Malta UN Child Rights Committee (CRC) Review session which took place at 3pm. I knew it would be somewhat a magical day, because the moment I stepped into the sun, there was a rainbow on the floor at the bus stop!


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Before that I went to the Palais Wilson (the place where the UN CRC reviews are held) to collect my pass for the review sessions, and I immediately felt more thrilled about the review on Thursday. It really must be the rainbow lanyard and big Sayoni badge I had close to my heart (literally), and maybe the fact that things just somehow feel more real when you have your face printed on a plastic card with a QR code on it (haha). I also decided to pay the Broken Chair a visit (Jean told me it's a must!) and went for a guided tour in the Palais des Nations (the UN office in Geneva).

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If you don't already know about the symbolism and history of the Broken Chair, here's a good place to start reading (https://www.hi-us.org/so_what_is_the_broken_chair). Notwithstanding the large crowds and countless people struggling to take selfies and photos without wanting stranger/s to unintentionally be part of the photo with them (an actual skill but also an impossibility), I stood there for a good five minutes (while trying not to be in anyone's photo, of course!) thinking about why and what I work so hard almost every day, and how very important this trip to Geneva is for not me, but all LGBTQ+ children and youths in Singapore. As someone who works with and tends to the concerns of some of the queer youths in Singapore (we have a group for those under-18s in The Bi+ Collective!), my heart breaks (and had broken) many times whenever these young kids come to me with narratives of discrimination, bullying, abuse, harassment and family violence. Many resonate with my own experiences growing up queer, and I often struggle with these narratives because there really is only that much I can do (most of it I can't do). This report that Sayoni (especially Mandy!) had led and I had helped work on really means a lot to some of these LGBTQ+ youths and children, it gave them a voice (which of course, we all know is non-existent in many spheres and spaces) and being able to try my best to help bring those voices to the UN CRC is almost surreal, yet at the same time, the most real? Whether or not the State is willing to address the extremely neglected and overlooked (but immensely serious) issues of LGBTQ+ children, the fact that this report exists and we were able to submit it to the UN CRC and how I am here in Geneva right now is a step forward in the discussion (even if it's just a tiny one!), and I see a little light at the end of a very very long and dark tunnel.

After doing a lot of intense thinking (as you can probably tell), I took the chance to tour the UN office in Geneva, and it was a pretty great experience! Here are some photos (and I do highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Geneva).

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The Malta CRC review was perhaps the most eye-opening moment of the trip so far! I never knew much about Malta, but not even 10 minutes into giving a general overview of child's rights in Malta, the Maltese State representative already spoke about trans, intersex children as well as non-discrimination of diverse gender identity expressions of children. She also mentioned progressive family structures and gave a mention to increasing numbers of families with same-sex parents! I was very pleasantly surprised, as you would imagine, because I never could envision the same words coming out from the mouth of a State representative from Singapore. I decided to do a little more research on Malta and found out that they are actually rather progressive in terms of LGBTQ+ rights in Europe (read more here) and I could not have been more inspired by their conversations and topics of discussion. I will attempt to do a comparison between some central themes that come up in the reviews between Malta and Singapore once the review for Singapore is over because I think that might be interesting to look at! Of course, I know that these words might not match reality (which is unfortunately the case most times), but the very fact that the Maltese government even recognises LGBTQ+ and intersex children and puts in effort in trying to engage with queer groups and organisations to come up with policies specifically targeted at helping the community really touched my heart in many, many ways!

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I was also thrilled and happy to hear one member of the committee (her name is Velina Todorova) who brought up questions about anti-discrimination and intersex children’s rights. I managed to speak to Velina during the break and she said she will try her best to bring up some of our concerns in the report. We can only cross our fingers and hope that she will! There is much anxiety in my restless self today (and every day to be honest), but also full of hope and joy learning more about Malta and hearing from Velina.

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.

 

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.

For updates, visit:

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'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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