Author cited in Focus on the Family Singapore pamphlet responds to controversy

SINGAPORE - The author of a book which was used as a reference by Focus on the Family Singapore when designing their relationship workshop said she was asked by the government to conduct relationship programmes for "thousands" of people.

In an open letter addressed to the leaders of Focus on the Family Singapore, author Shaunti Feldhahn said she and her husband, Jeff, had in 2009 been invited by the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) to run relationship programmes for young singles, college students, and marriage and family leaders and counsellors.

"In 2009, the government agency then known as MCYS brought in me and Jeff to conduct programmes for several thousand young professional singles and college students, as well as train-the-trainer sessions for several hundred leaders and counsellors who work in the marriage and family arena," she said.

The letter, dated October 8, was put up on Ms Feldhahn's personal website.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development has confirmed that Ms Feldhahn was an invited speaker to a forum in 2009.

Ms Feldhahn is the co-author of For Men Only and For Young Women Only. Both books were cited as references in the pamphlet given out during the relationship workshops.

Focus on the Family Singapore, which has received funding from the Ministry of Social and Family Development to run relationship workshops in schools, had adapted content from these two books and used it in four pages of its own booklet.

The four pages, which had statements like "While guys don't want a girl to pretend to be clueless, they also don't want a girlfriend that questions their opinions and argues with their decisions all the time", were the same ones that Hwa Chong Institution student Agatha Tan had criticised in an open letter on her Facebook page.

She had attended Focus on the Family Singapore's workshop in school last Friday, and felt the booklet emphasised gender stereotypes.

"Much as girls have been generalized and simplified in this booklet, so too have guys, and this is fair for neither gender," Agatha wrote.

But Ms Feldhahn said that Agatha had misunderstood the material, which was based on "extensive" research.

"We strongly disagree with the idea that teaching the brain wiring and mutual respect is somehow contributing to a "rape culture." That is a clear misunderstanding, and it confuses the real and important issue and teaching that will help both men and women." she wrote.

The Education Ministry said on Thursday that the programme by Focus on the Family Singapore will cease its run by end-2014.

A ministry spokesman said the learning objectives on educating students on healthy relationships can be met by the ministry's refreshed sexuality education programme at the junior college level, which will start next year.

Ms Feldhahn said Focus on the Family Singapore should engage the Government on this decision to discontinue the programme.

"I urge you to show them that this is based on years of rigorous research, and to ask them to consider that this type of healthy relationships program is exactly the sort of program the government was wanting to create to educate and encourage young people now, in order to form healthy families later," she wrote.