Christian charity defends workshop which Hwa Chong student called 'sexist'

SINGAPORE - A Christian charity that conducts sexuality and relationship education workshops in schools has defended its programmes, after a student said it promoted gender stereotypes.

Student Agatha Tan, a first year junior college student at Hwa Chong Institution, had on Friday attended a workshop in school, run by Focus On The Family Singapore, a pro-family Christian charity.

She has written to HCI principal Hon Chiew Weng saying that the workshop "seemed to emphasise and enforce traditional gender roles in a relationship".

She referred to a booklet given to students, which said girls need to feel loved, can be emotional and have a "deep need for her boyfriend to find her beautiful". The booklet also said boys are "visual", and that a "guy can't not want to look", and they have a desire to "visually linger on and fantasise about the female body".

Ms Tan said the booklet "paints girls as hopelessly dependent beings who are incapable of surviving without guys". She called it an "extremely sexist view" that "trivialises girls' problems" and "serves as a foundation for the further boosting of the male ego".

Ms Tan has made the letter public on her Facebook page. It has been shared more than 1,000 times since it was put up early Tuesday morning.

But Focus On The Family Singapore - approved by the Ministry of Education to run sexuality education programmes in schools - said on Tuesday that the workshop that Ms Tan attended is not a sexuality education programme.

"It is designed to be a relationship programme to help young people unravel the world of the opposite sex, uncover the truths of love and dating, and reveal what it takes to have healthy and meaningful relationships," said its head of corporate communications, Ms Vicky Ho.

She added that Focus On The Family Singapore is in touch with "the relevant parties" to address Ms Tan's concern.

Ms Ho said the programme curriculum is based on "well-researched material by various trusted family life and relationship experts", but did not provide more details on who they are.

A HCI spokesman also reponded to queries about the workshop.

"The Relationship Module workshop aims to educate students on healthy relationships," she said. "The school provided information on the programme and gave parents and students the option to opt out of the workshop. We are in touch with the student to understand her feedback and would also gather feedback from the other students."

leepearl@sph.com.sg