EDITOR’S NOTE: It seems that the new leadership of AWARE sacked former Center manager Ms Schutz Lee over reasons that were concocted and fabricated by themselves. It is now apparent that Ms Lee was sacked not due to poor performance as alleged, but for other reasons which readers will be able to guess what they are.
ST letter by Ms Schutz Lee
30 April 2009
THERE are a number of factual misrepresentations in last Saturday’s article, ‘Centre manager sacked for insubordination, says vice-president’, which I wish to clarify.
I started work in Aware in February on a part-time short-term contract basis. My contract was to end on May 31. I was not meant to work part-time after May as reported.
April 10 was 13 days after the annual general meeting (AGM) on March 28, not ‘very shortly after the election results’ as Aware vice-president Charlotte Wong said about reporters contacting the new exco members. On April 10, Mr Wong Kim Hoh’s story on the AGM was published. On April 11, in an e-mail message, Ms Wong complained to me about breach of confidentiality.
The fact is, I was away from Singapore on a holiday from April 1 to 8 and went back to the office only on April 9. I had no access to the files while away. Mr Wong certainly did not get the numbers from me as Ms Wong alleged.
On April 14, when I discovered the powder-filled envelope, Ms Wong was besieged by reporters in the Aware centre. I did not want to alarm the reporters further. I slipped out quickly and quietly as my priority was not to put health at risk if the powder was a bio-terrorism substance.
Similarly with electronic newsletters to members. I wanted members to get the extraordinary general meeting notice sooner as they were asking for it. If I knew what to do, why did I need to wait for an executive decision? How is it insubordination?
When faced with IT problems, I will call our vendors. On April 17, at around 4.30pm, I gave Ms Wong the password for the president’s e-mail that had been used previously by Mrs Constance Singam. She tried and told me the password was wrong. I had no idea the password was changed. I called the administrator to rectify the problem immediately. Within an hour, I gave Ms Wong a new password before she left for the day.
Whenever Ms Wong complained to me about online registration of members, I alerted the webmaster. He has since enabled his programmer to receive e-mail confirmation of every online registration so mistakes may be spotted right away. As far as I know, the problem is looked into. I have done my job. It has nothing to do with my performance.
Schutz Lee (Ms)
ST letter by Mr Anthony Yeo
30 April 2009
THE clarification and statement by Senior Minister of State for Education S. Iswaran, as well as yesterday’s letter by Ms Deeksha Vasundhra from Aware’s former Comprehensive Sexuality Education development team (‘What the school programme teaches students’), should put to rest the concerns of the current executive committee of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) regarding homosexuality being taught during sex education in schools.
It is also gratifying to learn that the Ministry of Education (MOE), in its letter yesterday, ‘MOE: No complaints from parents, Dr Thio’, has endorsed the programme offered thus far, with no complaints from Dr Thio Su Mien and parents. This is a sure testimony that there is no issue with the content.
It is even more reassuring that MOE had permitted this programme to be taught in schools, even if it contained minor information on sexual identity and orientation, as we know how prudent MOE can be – to the point of being prudish at times – when it comes to such matters in sex education.
In recent years, MOE has engaged our centre to offer training to full-time school counsellors in understanding and counselling students with gender identity issues. The aim is to equip them with knowledge and skills to provide guidance and counselling to students who have such issues.
I appreciate the concern of the newly elected Christian exco members that Aware should not be pro-gay or promote a homosexual lifestyle.
Unfortunately, this concern should have been expressed to MOE or been clarified and debated at Aware’s platform, instead of by ousting the old guard.
Since the members are Christians from the same church, they should use a religious platform to deal with this issue and not invade a civil society that is meant to be non-sectarian and secular.
I have also been involved in my professional capacity with various programmes and projects of Aware for more than 15 years. In all these years, I have not encountered any of the newly elected Christian exco members. Nor had I the faintest idea that Aware was in any way pro-gay or promoted a homosexual lifestyle.
Now this has been raised by these members, it is indeed a stunning revelation, not only to me but also to many who have been involved with the work of the committed old guard of Aware.
Counselling and Care Centre
EDITOR’S NOTE: This message was penned by Dr Gwee Li Sui, an Assistant Professor of English at the National University of Singapore.
Dr Gwee message, which is addressed to Christians who are concerned with the recent takeover of AWARE, was posted on his facebook notes page, and has attracted over 200 comments to date.
I would like to encourage everyone regardless of their religious affiliations (I am an atheist, by the way) to take note of the larger message that Dr Gwee is trying to convey, about the role of religious belief and affiliation in multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore.
By Dr Gwee Li Sui, on Facebook
29 April 2009
Christians in Singapore, listen! You should not be this conflicted about the AWARE debacle. It appears that a few churches have already taken the opportunity to preach on the issue of homosexuality from the pulpit. Some Christians have also been rattling on about it being time to make a stand and be counted for what one truly believes.
So this is me making a stand right here. I have been a Bible-believing Christian for 25 years now. I want first to acknowledge fellow believers who, like me, are shocked, angered, and saddened by the takeover and feel that their faith has been hijacked and their views ignored. I know that a lot of such affected Christians are out there. There is also another group which may not agree with the new team’s tactics but admires its fervour or sympathises with it for the heat it has been getting.
But, most of all, I want to address a crucial third party: Christian women who have been encouraged to stand up and be counted for their beliefs. I wish to appeal to their good sense in these last hours. You may be one of these and have even joined, or are planning to join, AWARE to help swing the votes in favour of the new ex-co on Saturday. Especially if I am describing you, please read on!
ST Letter by Ms Deeksha Vasundhra, AWARE CSE Development Team (2006-07)
29 April 2009
I REFER to reactions to Aware’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme. The CSE was developed when data released in 2005 showed a sharp rise in sexually transmitted infections (STI) among teenage girls. Between 2000 and 2005, this figure grew 3.4 times. We were concerned because some STIs can cause sterility.
A study by the National University Hospital found that 117 girls under 20 years of age had abortions, and of these, nine had previous abortions. Nearly 30 per cent of women above age 20 had previous abortions.
Clearly, accurate information about safer sex and contraception is severely lacking for teens and adults. Aware’s CSE programme set out to help close the information gap.
Straits Times, 29 April 2009
GET your facts right on what is happening in Singapore schools when it comes to sex education, and do not base comments on ‘innuendo or information received on the fly’.
This advice, for those who have criticised the sexuality programme run by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) in some schools, was given by Senior Minister of State for Education S. Iswaran yesterday.
Speaking after an event celebrating Yishun Town Secondary School’s new autonomous status yesterday, he urged the parties in the Aware dispute to engage in ‘responsible commentary’ on the subject of sexuality education, as this is an important part of the school programme.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) takes a deliberate and cautious approach in sex education, he said, and its guiding principle is that the family is the basic building block of society.
Its guidelines, he said, were drawn up to help students make ‘values-based decisions on this whole issue of sexuality and in a manner which is sensitive to our multiracial, multi-religious environment, because clearly, there are different perspectives in our society’.
Written by Ng E-Jay
29 April 2009
Dear Ms Josie Lau,
In your letter to AWARE members dated 28 April 2009, you wrote of your wish to “honour and celebrate the achievements of first generation Singapore women and to emulate their spirit of perseverance and to learn from their experience and vision”. You also put forward your rhetoric that “AWARE belongs to you”.
Yet all your actions thus far have been in contradiction to your supposed ideals. You used stealth and subversion to invade AWARE, you got your supporters to vote your team into office despite not having made any contribution towards women in Singapore, you unceremoniously displaced the Old Guard, and you spread vicious lies about AWARE’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme. Your contradictions have been exposed one after another, yet you persist on your sordid path, pretending to bury your head in the sand.
You tell readers that you wish to honour those who had served before you. Yet you sacked Braema Mathi in the rudest way possible and removed the subcommittee chairs the moment you took office. You say that AWARE belongs to all, yet on the other hand you attempt to impose your own values and beliefs upon others, and ostracized the Old Guard at your press meetings. If this is your definition of inclusiveness, you are making a mockery of the English language.
Source: MOE website
Reply to Recent Comments and Claims About AWARE’s Sexuality Education Programme in Schools
We refer to recent claims and comments about AWARE’s sexuality education programme in schools.
Sexuality education conducted in MOE schools is premised on the importance of the family and respect for the values and beliefs of the different ethnic and religious communities on sexuality issues. The aim is to help students make responsible values-based choices on matters involving sexuality.
Core programmes are delivered by teachers but schools do collaborate with other agencies in delivering additional modules. However, in doing so, schools must ensure that any programmes run by external agencies are secular and sensitive to the multi-religious make-up of our society. Parents can choose to opt their children out of these programmes.
Last year, 11 secondary schools engaged AWARE to run workshops for their students. The number of students involved in each school ranged from about 20 to 100, and each workshop lasted 3 hours. The objectives of these workshops were to provide students with accurate information on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)/HIV, to help students understand the consequences of premarital sexual activity, and to equip students with skills such as decision-making and resisting negative peer pressure.
AWARE also conducted assembly talks, typically of 45-minute duration, for students in a few secondary schools. Some of the areas covered in the talks included body image, self-esteem, eating disorders, teenage pregnancies, sexual harassment and the role of women in today’s context.
The schools that engaged AWARE found that the content and messages of the sessions conducted were appropriate for their students and adhered to guidelines to respect the values of different religious groups. The schools did not receive any negative feedback from students or parents who attended the workshops and talks.
In particular, MOE has also not received any complaint from parents or Dr Thio Su Mien, who was reported to have made specific claims about sexuality education in our schools. MOE has contacted Dr Thio Su Mien to seek clarifications and facts to substantiate her claims.
If parents and members of the public know of specific instances where guidelines have not been adhered to, they should report them directly to MOE to investigate. MOE recognises that sexuality education is sensitive. In conducting these programmes, the views of parents will be respected and values taught should not deviate from the social norms accepted by mainstream society in Singapore.
ST letter by Mr Joel Nicholas Chua
25 April 2009
THE truth behind the fracas surrounding the so-called leadership coup at Aware has finally come to light. A group harbouring anti-homosexual sentiments had become upset over the organisation’s promotion of social equity for gays and lesbians, and wanted to reinstate ‘traditional values’.
Is it not pungent with irony that a group dedicated to the promotion of equal rights for women should implicitly advocate social discrimination against another group? One would expect that individuals who undoubtedly appreciate the historical struggles women had to endure to free themselves of their societal shackles, also appreciate a similar, contemporary struggle for social acceptance. Have the oppressed become the oppressors?
But I understand that, for these individuals, it is a matter of morality. Their interpretation of their religion dictates that an innate sexual condition is grounds for opprobrium.
They might perhaps consider that even today, in certain societies, their counterparts continue to face unrelenting and imaginable prejudice, also because of an innate sexual condition — that of merely being a woman. Those who oppress them do so under the banner of perceived morality as well. Stories of how women are treated in some countries by the ‘morality police’ shock the conscience of women and men, straight and gay alike. Is it really moral or the fruit of a religion, whose early members were themselves persecuted as ideological deviants, to discriminate against people who are different?
Ultimately, this is not just a battle between pro- and anti-homosexual factions. It is but one front in the larger war against discrimination of all kinds. But just as the tide of history turned in favour of women in Singapore, so too will it eventually turn in favour of other groups. As for the new leadership at Aware, they must now struggle to keep their heads above the choppy waters of irony.
Joel Nicholas Chua
Straits Times, 25 April 2009
By Chua Mui Hoong
THE battle lines have been drawn. And it is not just between Aware’s new executive committee and its old guard.
The leading women’s advocacy group saw a stunning leadership change when newcomers captured nine of 12 executive committee posts at the group’s annual general meeting on March 28. Older members questioned their motives as well as the sudden influx of new members who joined Aware just months before the AGM.
Four members of the new exco held a press conference on Thursday evening. At the same time as the press conference was proceeding at Raffles Town Club, an exco meeting was called at Aware’s Dover Road premises. The new team sacked the Aware centre’s manager, a paid employee, changed the locks at the Aware office and had a stand-off with old guard members who turned up later.
Some see this episode as a ‘catfight’ among ambitious women. Others see it as a tussle for control of a prominent women’s advocacy group, three of whose presidents have served as Nominated Members of Parliament.
Written by Ng E-Jay
26 April 2009
It seems that AWARE’s new Exco cannot even tell a proper lie, nor are they able to spin even a half-credible propaganda story.
AWARE’s Vice-President Charlotte Lim told TODAY newspaper that Ms Josie Lau was “touched by the outpouring of support and the well-wishes from colleagues and members of the public“, and that “people were giving her the thumbs-up all the time“. (TODAY, “Job safe, but future of AWARE chief will be known on May 2”, 18 April 2009)
However, in the press conference on 23 April 2009, Ms Josie Lau said: “So far I’ve kept a very stoic and dignified silence … … And this is actually something that could have been resolved internally between the Old Guard and the New Guard in a very polite and civil way. But that has not happened. I’ll tell you so far I’ve only been appointed President for about a week and I’ve only been an Exco member for about 3 weeks. But to date I’ve only been met with hostility, intimidation. I felt so bullied I tell you.“. (See here.)
So in a mere span of five days (18 April to 23 April), Ms Josie Lau has gone from being touched by an outpouring of public support for her takeover, to being treated ONLY with hostility and intimidation.