Written by Ng E-Jay
03 May 2009
If there is anyone who still wonders whether we as a people have the courage to stand up for righteousness, justice and tolerance, who still doubts whether Singaporeans are able to rise up to the challenge when the occasion calls, Saturday night banished those doubts forever.
Those doubts were banished by the men and women who took time off from their families and their busy schedules to attend the most pivotal conference in the history of civil society in our nation, by the housewives, mothers, grandmothers, businesswomen, women from all walks of life, who waited hours in a packed seminar room to cast their vote for openness and tolerance, by the thousands of volunteers and activists who toiled tirelessly in the past month to craft the greatest campaign ever to help AWARE reclaim its purpose and its values.
Those doubts were banished by the married couples and the single parents, by the lesbians and the straight women and the bisexual women, who came out of their closets and stood up to be counted, who told the world that we are no longer a nation of sheep, that we will no longer look on helplessly when tyranny descends upon us, that when bigotry and intolerance threatens our lives and our rights and our dignity, we will NOT stand idly by.
Ms Dana Lam, Saturday night was a defining moment for you and your team. The victory is rightfully yours. Your team and the Old Guard fought with honour and won with grace. I could not have imagined a sweeter victory nor a more splendid outcome.
But the victory does not belong to your team alone. It belongs to all the pregnant youngsters, all the abused wives, all the distressed mothers, all the women that AWARE has ever helped. It belongs to all the girls who have been afraid of their own sexuality, who have had difficulty saying “no” to a guy, who have had problems with their self esteem and their body image, who have faced immense challenges dealing with issues like loyalty, abstinence and responsibility. It belongs to all the lesbians and transsexuals and bisexuals who to this day face prejudice from those who refuse to acknowledge that diversity is to be accepted and respected and not vilified.
Not many people understand the feminist cause or its role in modern society. What AWARE is fighting against is millennia of misconceptions and prejudice against women handed down from generation to generation, so intricately woven into the fabric of our society that sometimes we don’t even realize it until the folly stares us in the eye.
If the team headed by Ms Josie Lau truly understood feminism and appreciated what AWARE was doing to help women in distress and bring about a greater sense of gender equality, they would not have done what they did. But the Old Guard did not sit by idly and let the invaders destroy the organization. They fought back. They fought back with truth and reason and conviction. They fought back not just for themselves but for all the women who need their help in fighting violence, abuse, discrimination and prejudice. And because they fought back, because they refused to surrender the organization to the shackles of bigotry and intolerance, they have made civil society in Singapore come alive again. They have awakened our zest, our desire, our passion for a more mature and robust national conversation.
Ms Lam, Saturday night was a marvelous victory for you and your team, but the real battles have only just begun. You now have to work to rebuild and fortify the organization and prepare it for the even greater challenges ahead. You now have to heal rifts and forge alliances and convince your detractors that yours is a voice worth listening to. The social responsibility that has been placed on AWARE is immense, and the road ahead will be long and hard, but I’m sure you will all get there.
The darkest hour in AWARE’s history has past, and a fresh dawn awaits, a dawn that brings both new purposes and new challenges. Let us begin this new day by thanking all those who stood on the side of justice and tolerance and righteousness. Let us thank all the volunteers and activists who helped AWARE in its most dire moment of need. Let us also thank our Christian brothers and sisters who refused to let their faith be hijacked, who spoke out on behalf of the silent majority.
With the soft rays of the fresh morning sun falling upon the first pages of a new chapter in Singapore civil society, let us resolve never to wallow in the twilight of complacency again, and let us leave our comfort zones that we have become so used to and start to act on what we truly believe in.