Friday, April 24, 2009

AWARE: Analysis of Statements From A Representative Of New Guard

Today has been a watershed day and a sad one as well. For over several years now, I've wondered when religion is going to permeate Singapore society in a significant but not-so-good way. Today is the first time that this has explicitly happened. The national press has started to use the word 'coup' (pronunciation: koo) to describe the taking over of AWARE. The relevation of the coup leader Dr Thio Su Mien is most alarming: she was the one who was sort of behind the whole operation.

Now what I would like to do is to analyse what has been said, and look at it from a non-religious point of view. The reason is that the only way we can resolve this amicably in a pluralistic society is to use plain logic and to be rationale in our discourse. There is enough material apart from the religious aspects that paint a picture of no-confidence on this group of people. The following analysis is based on what is reported in the papers.

Huge Leaps of Logic
Thio spoke of the reasons why she wanted the old management changed.
Dr Thio explained that her concern about the direction that Aware was taking was partly prompted by a letter from a parent who was concerned that the society was promoting a homosexual agenda. He wrote to the Today newspaper in 2007 to ask why Aware's choice of a movie for a charity show was Spider Lilies, about two lesbians who fall in love.
Well, this inference and conclusion seems quite reasonable at first glance, but a little more thought will help us see that this is quite a bad argument and is just not tenable. Just because an organisation shows a movie with lesbian characters doesn't mean that the organisation wants the viewers to become lesbians! I went to research on other charity screenings and found the following.
  • The SMRT had a charity screening of Spiderman III. From this we can tell that it wants to encourage its customers to swing from place to place instead of taking the train. In addition, it endorses violent behaviours in its customers like smashing into trains and blowing up public structures as seen in Spiderman II.
  • The NTU School of Art, Design and Media helped to publicise a charity screening of We Want Roses Too, a movie about the 1970s sexual revolution and feminist movement in Italy. A central character of this movie has an illicit abortion. NTU's aim is to try and to influence its students to have illicit abortions. MCYS' portal promoted the same film too. Its aims, obviously, are similar.
  • had a charity screening of the movie Lilya 4-ever. Its sponsor was Mrs. Lim Hwee Hua, Minister of State for Finance and Transport. This movie examines 'human trafficing and sexual slavery'. By having this movie screening, is trying to promote and endorse sexual slavery among movie goers.
  • The National Committee for UNIFEM had a charity screening of Take My Eyes. This movie involves a woman who runs away from her abusive husband but later returns to him because she still loves him, only to be beaten up again. This movie encourages and endorses husbands to be abusive towards their wives because, well, their wives will always return to them.
  • AWARE had a charity screening of Spider Lilies. This is a movie about two women who fall in love and who are lesbians. By screening this movie, AWARE is endorsing, promoting and encouraging the viewers to become lesbians themselves.
Sex Ed
I've written about this before 2 years ago. My concern about sex education that is linked to a particular faith might be less objective. The primary reason might be that the theology (interpreted accordingly) tends to be more important than the disinterested facts. The facts sometimes need to be tweaked to accommodate the theology. This is not good for the consumer because I think there should be full disclosure so that people can make their own decisions. We don't want to lose the trust of the people we mentor. Let's have a look at what Thio says.
Dr Thio said she went on to discover that in Aware's comprehensive sexuality education programme, which is taken to schools, homosexuality is regarded as a neutral word, not a negative word. 'I started thinking, 'Hey, parents, you better know what's happening,'' she said.

'I talked to parents. I said: You better do something about this, otherwise your daughter will come back and say, 'Mum, I want to marry my girlfriend.'

'Or your son will say: 'Dad, I want to marry my boyfriend.''

These parents were flabbergasted, she said, adding that such sexuality education was taking place in the United States and Europe and was not new.

'What is happening in society is that we are redefining marriage, we are redefining families,' she said.

'So I'm a concerned citizen and if people are so ignorant, I think I want to teach them.'
Here we have another series of leaps of logic. I'm not sure why she wants to describes groups of people in negative terms, but let's look at the government's Health Promotion Board website. In the section titled 'Do You (a girl) Really Prefer Girls or Are You Just Different?'
Lesbians are women who are romantically attracted to other women, but it’s never as simple as that. It’s hard to say for certain what makes a woman a lesbian. Some argue it’s due to environmental factors, while others believe genetics determine our sexual preferences.

Are you a lesbian or just not a “girly” girl? There’s no clear cut answer except this − only you would know if you are a lesbian. But being one doesn’t make you less normal. Each human being is unique, with different likes and dislikes.
Now, even the official health advice website is neutral on the topic. What gives Thio the right to paint a negative picture of people who are not like her?

Thio continues.
Pointing out that Aware's programme was already in 30 schools, she said: 'The suggestion is that in this programme, young girls from 12 to 18 are taught that it's okay to experiment with each other.
'And this is something which should concern parents in Singapore. Are we going to have an entire generation of lesbians?'
Yet another strange leap in logic. A central argument that she has is that AWARE is trying to promote people to be lesbians. This statement is really quite ludicrous. How on earth do you try to encourage someone to be a lesbian? I'm a heterosexual. Now, why on earth would a counsellor tell me to try to be a homosexual if I'm not? It just doesn't make sense at all! Now, assuming that there were indeed some counsellor as strange as that, how on earth am I going to follow that advice? "OK, I think you're right, I'm better off being a homosexual person." I just don't see how this process will work. It's just wildly incredulous.

The claim that youngsters are encouraged to 'experiment' also sounds fishy. According to Mathia Lee who is an AWARE sex ed trainer,
What do we teach about homosexuality?
We don’t impose our views. In the first 2 sessions, we explore view points by asking the students what they think. Our aim is to open up students to the fact that there are many different views, and to open up their minds to all these different views so that they can think about it, and make their own choices based on their own personal values.

The bottom line is: respect for each other, even though we disagree. If the students bring it up, we acknowledge that some religions do hold homosexuality as being wrong. But just as we’ve learnt to respect each other’s religion where dietary restrictions are concerned, and not to impose on each other, we can also respect each other’s religious views in the same manner.

Our Program contents?
Part 1: Exploring different views and values — we do not use the terms “right” and “wrong” on any view.
Part 2: Factual info on contraception and STIs — here we do have “right” and “wrong” eg. AIDS can be cured is clearly wrong.
This seems reasonable to me. There seems to be a certain openness, a non-judgemental approach to dealing with people, much like what is painted at the HPB website. Thio has more.
She said that there were many women's issues that needed to be looked into, and cited the need to ensure that retrenched women are dealt with fairly. 'I find to my dismay that Aware seems to be only very interested in lesbianism and the advancement of homosexuality, which is a man's issue,' she said.
She felt this matter had to be discussed, but Aware should focus on going back to look after all women in Singapore.
Now it is fairly obvious that if Thio thinks the way she does, of course she will feel that lesbianism (whatever that means) is the only thing that AWARE is interested in. Our previous analysis has shown this line of thinking to be quite false. A quick check on its website clearly shows that AWARE is also about a lot of things. Another website shows that, on the contrary, AWARE has done nothing much for lesbians in the past two decades.

Hopefully the press will continue to keep an eye on this story. The EOGM is on 2 May. More details here. Check out


DK said...

Well said!!

SY said...

If you support the old Exco be sure to register at
There is a lot of supportive talk on blogs and in forums but it's hard to know how many of those voices will be attending the EGM. Registering will also help them plan and organise the logistics for the day, and to make sure that the event goes as smoothly as can be expected under these circumstances.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, this is not an issue about gay or lesbian rights or whether the takeover was legal. This is about the majority of Singaporeans who wish to maintain a secular public space, and about the survival of pluralism in AWARE. Can we condone the COOS-members-domination in this organization when it is supposed to be a secular organization for ALL women irregardless of their religion and sexual orientation. Every Singaporean woman who wishes to protect this original nature of AWARE and the wider secular nature of the Singapore society must support the Old Guards, and send a message to the new exco that they should keep their fundamentalist agenda to their own Church instead of forcing it onto others.