By: Toh Wen Li
A coalition of thirteen Singapore non-governmental organisations (NGOs) submitted on Monday (Oct 2) a joint report on gender inequalities to a United Nations committee, despite earlier disagreements with other organisations over parts of the report.
Last week, it was reported that more than half of about 60 NGOs which had been involved in the discussions did not support the report to the UN Cedaw (Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) Committee.
The Straits Times understands that groups such as the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association (PPIS), the People’s Association’s Women’s Integration Network and the NTUC Women and Family Unit decided not to support the report because they found some parts too divisive or irrelevant to their organisation’s interests.
Some of the 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.
Going by a statement issued by the coalition on Tuesday, the submitted report still contains the contentious parts some organisations had taken issue with.
Cedaw, adopted by the UN in 1979, defines discrimination against women and sets an agenda for nations to end these inequitable laws, policies, and practices.
The coalition of 13 NGOs submitted its report, titled Many Voices, One Movement, to the UN Cedaw Committee.
This committee, comprising international experts, monitors the progress of signatory countries to the targets of the treaty.
Singapore has been a party to the convention since 1995. All signatories are required to submit every four years a report to the Cedaw Committee about what has been done to comply with and implement the provisions of Cedaw.
The committee also encourages NGOs to submit their own reports about the situation in their countries. These reports help the committee frame its questions when it meets government delegations at the formal reporting sessions.
While individual Singapore NGOs have participated in previous Cedaw reporting cycles, this is the first time they have joined forces to prepare a joint report. Some will send representatives to Geneva in November.
Said Ms. Malathi Das, chairman of the coalition and president of the Zonta Club of Singapore: “After over 20 years of Singapore being a party to Cedaw, it is heartening that NGOs have pulled together a historic, unprecedented coalition report.
“Although some consultation participants could not make the final list of endorsements, it has been a learning journey for all. We are hopeful more will join in the next cycle.”
Veteran women’s rights advocate Anamah Tan, the only Singaporean to have been a member of the UN Cedaw Committee, said: “Trailblazing and moving out of one’s comfort zone is not always smooth sailing. The report is the culmination of two years of negotiating, learning and understanding the differing views even among us who support the report.”
Singapore submitted its Fifth Periodic Report to the committee in October 2015.
A government delegation will meet the Cedaw Committee in Geneva on Oct 25 to discuss the report.
Some months later, the committee will send out its observations and recommendations. After the session in Geneva, the NGO coalition hopes to engage the Government on the issues listed in their report, as well as the recommendations made by the UN committee.
Ms. Das added: “The coalition seeks a decisive blueprint for achieving gender equality in all areas – family, employment and public life and action on urgent issues like violence against women and migrants’ rights.”
NGOs who support the report are:
The Association of Women for Action & Research
The Business & Professional Women’s Association of Singapore – Third Chapter
Daughters of Tomorrow
The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics
The Singapore Association of Women Lawyers
Soroptimist International of Singapore (Garden City)
The Athena Network
The Gentle Warriors’ Trust
Transient Workers Count Too
Zonta Club of Singapore