Women's groups withdraw support for joint report on gender inequality

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) Centre at Dover Crescent.

SINGAPORE - A group of local non-government organisations have been working together for the first time to submit a joint report on gender discrimination to a United Nations (UN) committee.

But fault lines in the community have emerged, even before the final draft of the report for the UN's Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) committee was presented.

A media conference on Friday (Sept 29) that would have revealed the details of this report was cancelled with about three hours' notice. No reasons for the cancellation were immediately available.

The Straits Times understands that at least four women's groups - including the Singapore Muslim Women's Association (PPIS), the People's Association's Women's Integration Network and the NTUC Women and Family Unit - had previously decided to withdraw support for the report because they found some parts of the report too divisive.

The supposedly contentious points in the report included a call for the removal of Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sex between men, a shift away from abstinence-based sex education, a ban on polygamy, and tighter rules on Muslim inheritance and marriage.

The press conference was supposed to take place at the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) headquarters in Waterloo Street at 10am on Friday.

The report highlights existing gender inequalities in areas such as employment, family, politics, and violence against women.

It also makes recommendations for a greater national commitment to eradicating gender-based discrimination.

The women who were supposed to present at the coalition were Ms Malathi Das, immediate past president of SCWO; Ms Jolene Tan, the Association of Women for Action and Research's (Aware) head of advocacy and research; and Ms Halijah Mohamad, vice-president of the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, SCWO said: "As the national coordinating council of women's organisations, it is important for SCWO to accurately represent member's interests. Regrettably, as we are still collating various inputs from member organisations, we are unable to attend the press conference."

Apologising for the inconvenience caused, SCWO added: "Considering this is the first ever attempt by local NGOs to collaborate on a (joint) report, and the extensive nature of said report, SCWO is mindful of the important role the council plays in finding a common ground from the many voices it represents."

PPIS said that it was involved in the coalition right up to when the report was compiled.

"However, there were parts of the report which PPIS could not support," the organisation said. "So while we were glad to have been part of the process, as it gave us an opportunity to air our views and adjust the language to some parts of the report, PPIS made the decision not to be a signatory of the...report this year."

PPIS said it had reservations over four areas in the report including inheritance and polygamy matters.

"We believe there is still room for flexibility in addressing some of these unjust practices through the administration of Muslim law that is yet to be explored in the context of Singapore," PPIS said.

Said Ms Rahayu Mohamad, president of PPIS: "Moving forward, PPIS hopes that there will be opportunities for more open conversations and engagements with community service organisations towards a more unified voice in addressing issues for the betterment of women."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.