Aware gives men voting rights

The issue of voting rights for Aware's male members was discussed and voted on in 2006 and 2008. In addition to passing this right to vote in last Saturday's extraordinary general meeting, Aware renamed and updated its membership categories to be mor
The issue of voting rights for Aware's male members was discussed and voted on in 2006 and 2008. In addition to passing this right to vote in last Saturday's extraordinary general meeting, Aware renamed and updated its membership categories to be more inclusive to transgender and non-binary people.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

But caps will ensure women have majority voice on any resolution; proposal allowing men to take up board roles not passed at EGM

Male members of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) can now vote at its general meetings, following an "intensely debated and strongly contested" process last Saturday, said Aware in a press release yesterday.

Male votes, however, will be subjected to a cap so they cannot count for more than 25 per cent of votes on a resolution.

The decision was made after an extraordinary general meeting at the weekend, where more than 60 members voted on changes to the group's Constitution as part of an overall update.

Men and non-binary members - people who do not identify as either men or women - were given rights to vote in a decision supported by more than 70 per cent of voting members. Any changes to the Constitution have to be supported by at least two-thirds of the votes.

Male members make up 7 per cent of Aware's membership, and their voting rights have been discussed and voted on in 2006 and 2008.

TRYING TO GIVE A FAIR VOICE TO ALL

We have put some caps to it so that... women will always have a larger, majority voice, on any resolution.

FORMER AWARE PRESIDENT WINIFRED LOH, explaining how the outcome of the vote was a move in the right direction.

On Saturday, Aware's membership categories were also renamed and updated. It clarified that "women" includes transgender women and that "men" includes transgender men.

They also allowed non-binary people to join as associate members. This group was unable to do so before as the individuals had to specify if they were "male" or "female".

But a proposal allowing male members to take up roles on the board was not pushed through as it could get only 58 per cent of the votes.

Aware said the amendments on membership had been proposed after "an extended period of consultation and research by a committee appointed by the board in 2014".

Said Aware president Teh Hooi Ling: "The new rules provide for men to stand up and be counted as key co-owners of the movement for gender equality. We also see this as a move towards building the capacity for men to better promote gender equality."

Former Aware president Winifred Loh called the outcome "a small step in the right direction".

"We have put some caps to it so that... women will always have a larger, majority voice, on any resolution," she said.

Dr June Goh, president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, added that the decision was a cautious and thoughtful one. She said: "The fight for gender equality is a battle for all: Men, non-binary, all should be included in our journey."

Former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong, 41, who decided not to renew his membership about five years ago as he had disagreed with Aware's position on membership rights for men, said he thinks the latest decision "strikes a reasonable balance".

But he found the decision not to allow men on the board "a little disappointing... given that there would have been a cap" and a male candidate would still need female members' support.

Aware said those who opposed extending voting rights and board roles to men were concerned that changes would come at the expense of women's voices and space for women's leadership.

They were particularly concerned about the potential negative impact for women who face multiple forms of discrimination. This includes discrimination based on race, disability or socio-economic class.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Aware gives men voting rights'. Print Edition | Subscribe