Founders say those who disagree with Aware’s issues should form own group
By Nur Dianah Suhaimi
FOUNDERS and longtime members of the Association of Women for Action and Research yesterday slammed the new women in charge for the way they seized power on March 28.
Founder member and former nominated member of parliament Kanwaljit Soin said: ‘It is not just a women’s issue but the whole issue of how civil society actors behave in Singapore.
‘If the new members do not agree with Aware’s issues, then they should not join. There is plenty of room to start another organisation.’
In a statement, the old guard attacked the way in which a group of unknown new members showed up at the annual general meeting and put a set of new faces in charge.
If they were unhappy with Aware, they could have complained, invited Aware to a seminar to discuss its programmes, or even written to the media.
‘Instead, these women joined Aware in the few months before the AGM and then voted their representatives into the executive committee – without giving any indication that they were acting together. They continued with this stance until Thursday when they told the truth.
‘This cannot be the way forward for Singapore. We cannot have people acting like moral vigilantes running around and taking over established organisations.’
They said they were glad the truth was finally out, that the new group had been guided by senior lawyer Thio Su Mien.
Dr Thio revealed on Thursday that she had been disturbed by what she felt was Aware’s preoccupation with promoting lesbianism and had encouraged women to join and take over Aware. She called herself the ‘feminist mentor’.
The old guard said: ‘If Dr Thio and her mentees feel that Aware has strayed from its original aims, or that some of the programmes are unsuitable, then go ahead and criticise Aware, but do so openly.
‘Better still, form their own association to offer parallel programmes with what they see as the right messages, and let the public choose which they prefer. Their motives and actions will then be visible to all, there will be transparency and accountability.’
At a press conference in Bishan yesterday, the 10 ‘old guard’ representatives – nine women and a man – insisted that Aware had not deviated from its original goals as claimed by the new exco.
Dr Soin said the new team had not only taken over the association but had sought to demonise the former leaders.
The old guard said it was unfair for the new team to disregard the contributions Aware has made over the past 25 years and accuse it of becoming a pro-gay group. They highlighted the group’s many achievements in a wide range of areas since the 1980s, in education policy, literacy, financial education and efforts to uplift low-income families.
Homosexuality education, they said, was only a small part of what they did, but it was an issue that needed to be addressed. Said Dr Soin: ‘Aware cannot be an ostrich which buries its head and pretends homosexuality does not exist. There are many anguished young people who are bothered by it.’
The group said their main weakness was that they had been too trusting, always welcoming new blood and did not force existing members to stay on. This could be why membership figures had dwindled over the years.
Said lawyer Halijah Mohamad, a former vice-president: ‘A large number of members just let their membership lapse. Sometimes, people are lazy, some are not in town. There are a variety of reasons.’
While the mood during the press conference was mostly cheerful with much laughter, it turned sombre when Aware’s past president Constance Singam was asked if she felt responsible for the leadership grab happening during her watch.
Tearing up, she said: ‘Trust has always been a fundamental value for Aware. We always respect what the previous exco has done. I am saddened by what happened. The lack of respect and the lack of justice is most devastating.’
The old guard members declined to reveal what they are planning for the extraordinary general meeting on May 2, or what they will do if the new team remains in charge of Aware.