A new ground-up civil society award to be introduced

A civil society award will be started by a community of activists to reward an exceptional achievement in activism by an individual or organisation.

Women rights activist Constance Singam, 71, announced the award at the launch of her book, Where I Was: A Memoir From the Margins, on Friday. She will be donating her share of royalties from the book to fund the award.

Mrs Singam, also dubbed the "mother of civil society in Singapore", has been championing women's rights for more than two decades. On why she mooted the idea of the award, she said: "Civil society is underappreciated by the state in Singapore. But we must recognise these people who sacrifice their time for close to nothing, except belief in human dignity and their nation."

She hopes the award will raise awareness on the importance of civil society and encourage more young people to join. Details are still in the works but the award will be judged by a committee of civil society activists.

"We want to have a ground-up award because it is more meaningful," she said. "Activists know each other's work better, they respect and reward each other, that's how communities are built."

Mrs Singam's book launch was attended by around 100 people, many of whom were fellow activists. Her memoirs recount her participation in the AWARE saga, where a new exco attempted to oust the old guard she was part of. During the saga, she made her famous "Where were you?" speech, asking the new exco where they were when improvements to women's rights were made in Singapore. Her book is a response to that question and recounts highlights in her life and civil society career.

"Technology has spurred our ability to mobilise and inform young people," she said. "But the changes that are taking place now - the National Conversation, spontaneous outbursts of activities such as "Cook a Curry" campaign or rallies at Hong Lim Park - could not have been achieved without the long steady grind of advocacy work by institutionalised organisations," she said.