Claire Nazar: Why I quit as Aware president

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Former lawyer Claire Nazar quit the presidency of Aware after just 11 days because she ‘did not want the hassle’.

The hassle, that is, of working with the new executive committee, which she felt was ‘too gung-ho’ for her with its ‘Stormtrooper tactics’.

For starters, the new exco did not seem to take kindly to having input from former president Constance Singam or any of the veteran members of the 24-year-old women’s group, Mrs Nazar said.

She was also troubled by how at the first exco meeting – a 31/2-hour session – about a week after the AGM on March 28, the committee replaced almost all the appointed chairpersons of sub-committees based only on a majority vote.

That broke with Aware’s tradition of allowing chairpersons who were doing a good job to continue their work.

Worse, they kept Mrs Nazar, 37, out of the loop on various matters, and even insisted she complete the AGM minutes within days.

The members visited the Aware office so frequently that staff, who had not got used to the idea of the newcomers, were jittery and complained about their requests.

‘They come in, take charge – almost every day they’re at the Aware office, getting hold of documents, reading them, making their presence felt.’

The irony was that Mrs Nazar had nominated six of the current remaining 11 exco members. This came about after Mrs Singam advised her to include fresh blood among the exco members who could then work with older members to ensure continuity.

Of the six, two were old-time Aware members, Ms Chew I-Jin and Ms Caris Lim, and another was Mrs Nazar’s former classmate, Ms Catherine Tan. The other three – Ms Peggy Leong, Ms Lois Ng and Ms Josie Lau – were acquaintances.

She picked them based on their credentials and ‘the merit of their previous experience’. Besides, she added, ‘they had expressed keen interest, and I thought they were people I could work with’.

Ms Lau was in fact an acquaintance of her husband, lawyer Boaz Nazar, who is also a deacon at Cornerstone Community Church. He had met her in the course of his social work.

At Mrs Nazar’s urging, Ms Lau joined Aware at the start of the year. Mrs Nazar said that since joining Aware, she had made it a habit of asking women to sign up.

Unlike previous AGMs, where 30 or 40 people would turn up, the March 28 meeting was attended by more than 100. Many were new faces and new Aware members.

Mrs Nazar said she at first put it down to a recent surge in Aware membership. ‘I just thought, ‘Wow this is interesting.’ Nobody thought too much about it.’

She won the presidency unopposed.

But when Ms Chew was knocked out of the running for vice-president, it dawned on her that something was amiss, she said.

Mrs Nazar responded by nominating Ms Chew for the post of assistant honorary treasurer. Ms Chew was returned unopposed.

In the end, all six of Mrs Nazar’s nominees got into the exco. Five others – all recent members – were also voted in.

She was shocked at the outcome, she said. ‘Of course I was. Who wouldn’t be?’

It soon became apparent that the new exco did not share many of her views, she said.

Being a member of Aware for only a little over a year herself, she felt that she and the exco’s newest members could use the advice of those more senior.

Ultimately, she said, ‘the majority of the new exco members did not share my views or direction, particularly with regard to their call for an overhaul of existing chairs of key sub-committees to be replaced by new members. I personally disagreed with the exco’s approach’.

She quit to avoid the ‘in-house politicking’.

‘I didn’t want to waste my time. Every hour spent at Aware means one hour away from my family and children…I’m quite happy to step out of the picture,’ said the mother of two young children, who is also a marriage counsellor.

Last Wednesday, the exco appointed Ms Lau, 48, a DBS executive, as its new president. She had been on the new exco but did not hold any office.

Last Friday, Ms Lau sent the media a statement in which she said, among other things, that the new exco was eager to start work but ‘there were repeated delays in convening the first exco meeting. Mrs Nazar kept re-scheduling the meeting’.

In response, Mrs Nazar said: ‘What delays are they talking about?’

She said potential meeting dates were being bandied about to accommodate the schedules of both the new and old excos, something that could hardly be called repeated rescheduling.

‘In fact, when we finally settled on the date, I wrote to them half-jokingly: ‘Can you please be living proof that women can work together?”

As to whether the new team has what it takes to run Aware, Mrs Nazar said ‘in terms of their work skills, yes’. But in terms of their people skills, she would only say ‘no comment’.

Of the fear among veteran Aware members that the new exco is out to change the group’s all-inclusive stand on matters like sexuality, she said: ‘So far, in my 11 days of dealing with them, I’ve not found anything negative in terms of their intentions.

‘What people are most worried about seems to be whether they are going to be taking an anti-gay stance. In that sense, I highly doubt it. Aware is all about being anti-discrimination.’

The Sunday Times tried to reach several exco members yesterday for their comments on what Mrs Nazar said, but all had either their cellphones switched off or were not picking up calls.

Mrs Nazar said she was motivated to join Aware in January last year because it championed women’s issues.

‘I’ve always had a passion for advocacy because both my parents were born deaf-mute. I had to learn from a very young age to take care of them and speak up on their behalf,’ said the only child of a seamstress mother and artist father.

She also wanted to contribute on matters related to family and marriage, especially the plight of working mothers.

Shortly after she joined, Mrs Singam, then Aware’s president, invited her to be part of the exco. She accepted.

Earlier this year, when Mrs Singam mentioned she needed a successor, Mrs Nazar offered to stand.

‘I wanted to continue the work that Aware was doing. I saw it as my job to review initiatives which had been left on the backburner, and revive the ones that worked.’

She said the old guard was supportive, and had urged her to hang on to her position. They also do not seem to blame her for bringing in the new members.

‘The first thing I did after I resigned was to call up Constance Singam and apologise.’

She added that she would continue to stay an active member of Aware, but said the public fallout since then has been ‘the most horrible thing that has happened to me’.

Indeed, after her resignation, questions about Mrs Nazar were also raised. The buzz surrounded a letter she wrote to The Straits Times Forum page in July 2007 in which she voiced her concerns about same-sex couples.

But she explained: ‘My letter was against same-sex marriages and the impact on children. It was not anti-gay, which is discrimination against homosexuals.’

By association, her beliefs – that she is opposed to premarital sex, abortion and homosexuality – came to the fore.

Sighing, she said: ‘For the record, I am not anti-gay.’

As to the speculation that she was part of a concerted effort by the new guard to oust the old, but who pulled out at the last minute, she replied in a word: ‘No.’

‘I just want to see Aware moving forward, and I really don’t care who does it, as long as they can account for themselves.’

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