Exco of women’s group steps down after raucous seven-hour meeting and control goes back to the veterans
By Wong Kim Hoh
They came to reclaim what they had lost, and they did.
In a big show of solidarity, stalwarts of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) and their supporters turned up in force and won it back.
Nearly 3,000 people attended an extraordinary general meeting and over nearly seven action-packed hours, blasted away at the team of unknowns which snatched the Aware leadership on March 28.
Then they voted resoundingly to oust the team led by DBS Bank vice-president Josie Lau and inspired by senior lawyer Thio Su Mien.
The final tally that they should go: 1,414 to 761.
Even then, Ms Lau and her team did not step down immediately. They consulted their lawyer, ignored calls to resign, then were told they could retire for five minutes to decide.
When they did not return, the meeting elected a new executive committee headed by former president Dana Lam.
It was half an hour before Ms Lau and her exco reappeared to say that they had decided to step down.
Yesterday’s meeting at Suntec City Hall 402 drew Aware founders, past presidents and long-time members, as well as many women who joined only in recent weeks.
Many said they had been moved by the tumultuous events since March 28, when a team of new members seized nine of the 12 positions on the exco.
New president Claire Nazar quit 11 days later, to be succeeded by Ms Lau. It then emerged that several of the new leaders attended the Anglican Church of Our Saviour, and were strongly against homosexuality.
Then, Dr Thio revealed that she had encouraged the women to join and change Aware because she felt it was promoting lesbianism and homosexuality.
In particular, she attacked an Aware sexuality programme for schools, saying it too promoted homosexuality. She called herself a ‘feminist mentor’.
Over the past five weeks, the Aware exco shrank from 12 to eight as members resigned. There were only seven present yesterday, as the eighth, Ms Peggy Leong, did not attend.
Yesterday’s marathon meeting, which started at 2.30pm, was dominated by Aware stalwarts and their supporters, who criticised the newcomers and Dr Thio for the way they took over the association, disregarded older members and sacked staff. They also criticised the team’s lack of diversity.
Ms Lau’s team had several hundred supporters at the meeting, but mostly the sparring was done between the audience and the exco, and Dr Thio.
There were some tense moments at the start of the meeting, when Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong was told to sit with the men and expatriates in one side of the hall.
He refused, saying that he was there as a legal adviser for the old guard.
Ms Lau started to make a speech but was interrupted several times, including by former vice-president Margaret Thomas, who wanted the vote of no confidence to be tabled immediately.
In the ensuing war of words, assistant honorary secretary Sally Ang told Ms Thomas to ‘shut up and sit down’.
That caused an uproar and Ms Ang refused to apologise until after Ms Lau apologised.
Former presidents Dana Lam, Zaibun Siraj and Constance Singam criticised the new team for lacking the moral authority to lead Aware.
Mrs Singam asked: ‘Where were you when women were abused and battered in the home, and girls raped? Where were you when children and husbands of Singapore women were denied citizenship? Where were you? You were not there.’
The crowd echoed: ‘Where were you? Where were you?’
‘Feminist mentor’ Dr Thio tried to speak but was mostly drowned out. She said they should respect their elders, and someone called back: ‘Respect has to be earned.’
Ms Lau and her team referred regularly to the lawyers from Rajah & Tann hired for the occasion.
Her team had several hundred supporters in the room, but they were mostly quiet. Only a handful spoke up.
It was not until 8.05pm that the results of the no-confidence vote were finally announced. The exco sat in stunned silence as the hall reverberated with loud cheers.
A check with the legal team drew the advice that the exco should step down out of ‘courtesy, custom and common sense’.
It was around 9.10pm when Ms Lau told the room: ‘The exco has graciously decided to step down and we wish Aware all the best in its future endeavours.’