This article is written by a guest writer Bryan Choong.
Each time I talked to my friends and colleagues about the ongoing AWARE issue, they are puzzled why I have spoken with so much anger. There are a lot of women who are indifferent about the issues, and men who think this is a women’s problem. Some said that a new organisation can easily replace AWARE so why should we be so bothered by the new Exco and their non inclusive stand.
Being a gay person, I am sure many of my friends though that I am feeling so frustrated because the new Exco is anti gay and I felt threatened. Yes, the matter of fact is, I do. But let me explain why I am with the old guard. I should also clarify that I only joined as an associate member of AWARE recently but I have been very aware of what old AWARE represents. And it all started when I was 14 years old.
One night when I was 14 years old, I found myself sitting in the old New Bridge Road police station, waiting for my mother to complete her police statement. My mother has just been beaten by my father after months of verbal abuses. It was about 1am. There were no visible bruises and the policeman on duty told my mother that he could not do much to my father than to bring him down to the station and give him a verbal warning. Unless, in his own words, someone is visibly injured or dead. I was sitting next to my mother and listening to all these. My mother decided against the police going to our place to bring my father to the station. She feared that things would be worsened. For the rest of the night, my mother and myself sat outside the station. I was so worried that my mother would get a chill so I bought a cup of hot milo for her from the vending machine. That was the only thing this small built boy could do. I remember that cold night till today, that overwhelming helplessness of being a 14 years old boy who could not do anything to help his abused mother.
That was not the only time I felt that way. When I was 7 years old, after my father’s repeated beating, my mother left home without a single penny. Later she told me that she had to beg for a 10 cent from a stranger to call her sister for help. She was standing on the street with nothing except her clothes. In another occasion, I accompanied her to look for a place to stay when the abuse increased. We walked through the entire Joo Chiat area but nothing was affordable or safe enough for her to stay in. Hopeless and helpless, we went back home, which was increasingly more like a battlefield than a sanctuary. From that very young age, I learnt to be present at home whenever possible so that in case of a dangerous situation, I could shield her or do anything to protect her. Most of the time, I was disappointed that no one seemed to be able to render any assistance. I have to clarify here that my mother was not the soft asian woman you can imagine. However, she has gotten into a wrong marriage because she wanted to break away from my grandfather’s control. Unfortunately, in those days, you could walk away from your father but it was not so easy for you to walk away from your abusive husband. No one, apart from those who walked this journey before, will understand how vulnerable we felt.
The first sign of hope came when NMP Dr Kanwaljit Soin pushed for the amendment of Women Charter in 1997. I was so excited that I borrowed a copy of the Women Charter publication from the National Library and read it to my mother. We finally knew and got our rights. I watched the debate in the Parliament when NMP Soin spoke and I swear to the god that she is the only female MP whose face and name I could remember till now.
Finally, with the new Women Charter in place and the family court more empowered to do more for domestic violences, my mother decided to end the marriage when my father hit her for the last time and a Personal Protection Order was issued. Despite of the PPO, my mother’s lawyer, Ms Ellen Lee, now MP for Sembawang GRC tried so hard to ensure our safety during the divorce proceeding. She even allowed us to use her office address in Beach Road as a correspondence address so that our actual place of residence would not be exposed.
After a long legal battle, we got our lives back, leaving the years of living in constant fear and abuses behind. I regained my trust that there is justice in this world and women and children should be protected against any wrongful acts by their male family members. What Dr Soin and AWARE probably would not know is that their fight for women rights have changed the life of a boy who they never know.
I cannot tolerate the new Exco’s attempt to deny the good works by these women and AWARE. And I cannot trust them when the church they belonged to, openly stated that 'the wife is in subjection to her husband' and 'women [are] to continually deny themselves and yield the rule to men'. This statement alone makes me feel so sick, the same sick feeling I had when the policeman told me that he could not do anything.
In Singapore we are so used to take a neutral stand on everything, until it affects you. I know exactly how that feels. For you who has the right to cast your vote and decide not to do anything at all, you might regret it when you need it.
Editor’s Note: Please visit www.we-are-aware.sg for news and updates, and information on how you can help.