Articles Tagged ‘advocacy - Sayoni’

Concerns at UN Review of Singapore's Gender Equality

AWARE, the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (H.O.M.E.), Sayoni and the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) express concerns at the UN review of Singapore’s gender equality.

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From left: Vanessa Ho from Sayoni, IWRAW intern Kari Rotkin, Malathi Das from SCWO, Braema Mathi from AWARE, Jean Chong from Sayoni, Nadzirah Samsudin from AWARE, Kelly Then from Sayoni, and Laura Hwang from SCWO

 

1. Gender equality experts from the CEDAW Committee asked more than 100 questions during an intense, five-hour Constructive Dialogue with Singapore’s State delegation at the 49th CEDAW session on 22 July 2011, in the New York headquarters of the United Nations.

Our CEDAW journey - Journal 1

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In this series, our CEDAW team over at UN will be sharing with our readers the journey they are undertaking, in order to present the Sayoni CEDAW Shadow Report  We wish all the luck to Jean, Kelly and Vanessa, for their presentation before the UN.

 

Sometimes, a little thing you start can take a life of its own. Sayoni's CEDAW project was one of those.


CEDAW is an international Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, for which States and NGOs make periodic reports about their countries. It is significant because it is one of only two international human rights treaty that Singapore has ratified and the State has asserted consistently that it would only ratify conventions that it is prepared to implement.


In 2008, AWARE started a series of workshops to prepare their CEDAW shadow report. Jean and I attended their training. Initially, we had planned to include our concerns as lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in AWARE's report. However, we later decided to prepare our own report in order to give the issues due prominence.

Our CEDAW journey - Journal 2

 

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In this series, our CEDAW team over at UN will be sharing with our readers the journey they are undertaking, in order to present the Sayoni CEDAW Shadow Report. They have already presented their report before the CEDAW Committee, and are now awaiting the government's presentation to the Committee. You may read the Government's report here.

We had the most difficult flight while on the way to New York. With multiple wailing babies on a long flight, we were convinced it was the government’s way of torturing us for the audacity of writing a country shadow report in CEDAW highlighting the plight of sexual minority women.


People often asked us why we are always dreaming the impossible. There were criticisms on the effectiveness of this human rights treaty and that better focus should be put on grassroot movements. At the same time, there was also a tremendous amount of support from the community and international friends.

 

Our CEDAW journey - Journal 3

 

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We have had so little time to write about our CEDAW journey here due to the frantic pace. I believe if we try, most of our sentences will be incoherent anyway due to the fatigue level we’re experiencing.


But we soldier on. We are doing everything we can because so many people are depending on us to speak up for them. The joke between us is that we have only seen a two-block radius of New York between the hotel and the United Nations.

Our CEDAW journey - Journal 4

 

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There were tears when I contemplated on all the things we have done at the eve of the Singapore government's session with the CEDAW committee. They were not of sadness or regret but a crescendo of the many emotions that swept us daily throughout the last week.


We spoke about the victims of violence we know of and the silence that surrounds invisible women. Or the many gay men and women we know that lingers at the edge of existence. We tried to put a name to the shame and pain that tortures our community endlessly and the insistent ignorance of those who claimed that they understand but know nothing. And did nothing.


With determination flashing in her eyes Kelly quietly said to me, "We have to make this happen. We must." That was the deciding tone when we raced down the stairways and corridors in the United Nations every day.

Our CEDAW journey - Oral Statement to CEDAW committee on the 18th of July

 

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Editor's note: This is the oral statement by Sayoni, delivered by Kelly, before the UN last week. Our team has completed their duties at CEDAW, and we await their return from New York so that we can congratulate them on a job well done.

 

Madam Chair,

I am from Sayoni and represent women in Singapore on sexual orientation and gender identity. The State has said that there is no discrimination against homosexuals in Singapore. Our research and experience show otherwise. The most pressing issues are:

In the Law

Legislation inherited from the British criminalises sexual intercourse between men. This criminalisation sets the stage and cascades. It condones discrimination against lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and it prevents equality of access, opportunities and outcomes for us in public policy.

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

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

UPR Statement by Sayoni at UPR Pre-Session

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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