'Controversial' issues need more voices, not fewer

The latest changes to conditions for Speakers' Corner events and indoor assemblies suggest a troubling closing off to different perspectives ("Keeping domestic issues for locals"; Nov 1).

We find that our work has much in common with gender equality advocacy all over the world. The movement for women's rights is a global one, and we benefit from mutual learning and support with foreign counterparts.

In the context of regulated speech in Singapore, the possibility of nefarious foreign manipulation through speech should not be exaggerated.

To be exempted from having to obtain police permits, Speakers' Corner events and indoor assemblies must, in any case, feature exclusively Singaporean speakers and organisers.

Restrictions on foreign funding thus hamper events that are controlled by citizens to begin with. Rather than remove foreign voices, this makes it harder for locals to be heard.

In any case, must foreign voices always be seen with suspicion? The Singapore state itself recognises the value of international perspectives on social matters.

For instance, it joins global treaties on the rights of women, children and people with disabilities.

Recently, it invited to Singapore a United Nations expert on the rights of older people.

If the state shares feedback with other countries on various matters, why shouldn't the people engage in mutual exchange and support with foreigners?

Foreigners, as residents, have particular stakes in some issues. Domestic workers and their compatriots have compelling reasons to support events discussing their experiences. Similarly, foreign spouses of citizens may wish to engage issues that affect them and their citizen children.

Society benefits from chances to connect over contested issues in person, not only online. Rather than policing who speaks and who supports them, let us hear what they say. It is better to hear too many voices than too few.

Jolene Tan (Ms)
Advocacy and Research
Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline ''Controversial' issues need more voices, not fewer'. Subscribe