The Objectification of Women: Misogyny, Westernisation, and Beauty Standards

The Objectification of Women: Misogyny, Westernisation, and Beauty Standards

The Objectification of Women: Misogyny, Westernisation, and Beauty Standards

TW: MISOGYNY, MENTIONS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE

“Y’ALL LOOK LIKE Y’ALL JUST DIED AND CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD”

Nope, this is not an allusion to Jesus’s resurrection (although I would say that women are goddesses). If you have been on TikTok around late December 2021, chances are that your “For You” feed was filled with clap-backs in response to TikTok user David Rosal’s misogynistic and white-washed comments objectifying Singaporean women.

Here is a TL;DR of this incident: After spending some time in the United States, Rosal uploaded a TikTok video insulting Singaporean women for being poorly dressed and unkempt. Here is a transcript of his video, which was reuploaded by Mothership (TW: MISOGYNY):

“Can I just talk about this for a sec? So basically right, I feel like American girls, they know how to groom themselves better and make themselves look more presentable. Like, it doesn’t matter what race it is, like White, Black, Hispanic, err, Asian. Dude, they know how to. It’s not even make up. It’s just like they can take care of themselves better. Like I swear you Singaporean girls like y’all just be wearing the same shit, y’all just be f**kin’ – I don’t know – not be taking care of yourselves and y’all look like fuckin’ ass, like y’all look like y’all just died and came back from the dead. Like come on man you got to step your game up for real. Like [engine noises] I-I’m out here in-in California, I’m not even in L.A., and these-these-these [inaudible] fine as f*** man for real. Tsk yea, I’m probably gonna like get cancelled for this but [blows air] whatever.”

Within hours and over the next couple of days, other TikTok users responded with criticism, addressing his prejudice against Singaporean women. @barbersnotsalon, for instance, talked about how it is ok to find people overseas attractive, but it was not ok for Rosal to then proceed to belittle or talk down on people from his own country, just because they do not suit his standards – after all, “none of us are doing it for you – we don’t care what you think”.

Rosal’s misogyny also reflects wider issues with regard to the objectification of women in Singapore. While his video also prompts questions about the influences and effects of westernisation and beauty standards, this article will focus on addressing how gender norms drive misogyny, and in effect, the objectification of women.

The article concludes with a non-exhaustive list of actions you may take to fight misogyny online.

Gender roles norms and stereotypes

Especially in a cisnormative society that largely equates sex and gender, gender roles refer to “how we’re expected to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct ourselves based on our assigned sex”. In our patriarchal world, women are assumed to be weaker than men, and are expected to adopt passive, domestic, and nurturing duties, while men are expected to be aggressive, ambitious leaders.

When society becomes accustomed to such gender roles, these gender-based and/or sex-based stereotypical expectations of people form a part of the social norms.

The imposition of such gender norms contributes to sexism, which is “prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender, especially women and girls”. In other words, the assignment of gender roles disproportionately affects women, who are treated as second-class citizens, as objects simply based on the stereotypes attributed to their gender identity.

Misogyny and the patriarchy

As such, it is clear how gender roles, stereotypes, and norms drive sexism. More specifically, such harmful gender-based and/or sex-based expectations form the root of misogyny, which is about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance.

Ultimately, gender roles serve to sustain the patriarchy, “a social system in which power is held by men, through cultural norms and customs that favour men and withhold opportunities from women”.

The prevalence of misogyny in Singapore (at least in the online space) is evident with the research findings by a 2021 Quilt.AI and AWARE study. For instance, Quilt.AI’s machine-learning model “found that female accounts on Twitter received twice as many misogynistic comments as a random sample of accounts, [and that] misogynistic comments were twice as likely to be “liked” and 4.5 times more likely to be retweeted compared to non-misogynistic comments”.

Such misogyny is intrinsically linked to the objectification faced by women as well.

The objectification of women

Objectification is defined as “treating people like tools or toys, as if they have no feelings, opinions, or rights of their own”. On top of being stereotyped as being more emotional and nurturing, women are also seen as being weaker than men, as being submissive to men.

Not only that, but the systemically-embedded patriarchy also structurally disadvantages women in society, putting them in more vulnerable positions.

As such, women tend to be objectified, being undervalued for their labour – aside from the gender wage gap, women are often subjected to unpaid domestic work, such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare. In Singapore, policies like the 1984 Graduate Mothers’ Scheme, for instance, served to “encourage better-educated married women to have more children”, while the disparity between the maternity leave (four months) and paternity leave (two weeks) “reinforces the notion that raising a child is primarily a woman’s job”.

Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was also not shy about reiterating such sentiments, having said, “We shouldn’t get our women into jobs where they cannot, at the same time, be mothers,” (1983), and also that “attractive and intelligent young ladies” should go to finishing colleges so that they will be “marvellous helpers of their husband’s career” (1994).

These policies and public sentiments by influential persons of authority not only socialise the masses to internalise such sexist stereotypes, but also systemically and materially entrench such gender roles. No matter how much a woman thrived academically, they have been relegated to objectification and submission, pushed to prioritise marriage and motherhood over their career and education, while men are expected to be the primary caregivers.

Women also tend to be objectified in terms of their appearances, being subjected to the male gaze, whereby a “woman is visually positioned as an ‘object’ of heterosexual male desire; her feelings, thoughts and her own sexual desires are less important than her being ‘framed’ by male desire”. Aside from media portrayal, how women look are also subjected to the scrutiny of some men with their patriarchally-enabled audacity and ego (case in point: David Rosal).

(TW: MENTIONS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE) Furthermore, the harmful effects of gender stereotypes and the patriarchy in Singapore can be seen in the perpetuation of sexual violence against women. AWARE “warned about the growing online communities of ‘incels’, or voluntary celibates, in which men position themselves as the dominant gender, deserving of sexual pleasure by virtue of being male”.

How to fight misogyny online?

The relationship between gender norms, misogyny, and gender-based violence is clear – gender roles established under the patriarchy disproportionately disenfranchises women, placing them in positions of vulnerability while uplifting men into positions of power and authority.

So, what can all of us do, at least in the virtual space?

According to Shailey Hingori (Head of Research and Advocacy, AWARE) and Michelle Gay (Director of Operations, Quilt.AI), a bystander of online misogyny can take the following actions:

  • Post something supportive about the victim(s),
  • Send the victim(s) a sympathetic private message, and/or
  • Call out the abuser by responding critically to their original post (which is what many TikTok users, including @barbersnotsalon did, in response to Rosal’s video).

Hingori and Gay also highlighted the importance of instilling gender-equal values and encouraging more active prevention of misogyny and violence foundationally through comprehensive sexuality education, as well as through bystander intervention programmes.

To find out more about problems that affect vulnerable communities in our society, feel free to follow us on Instagram, check out our LinkedIn, and/or subscribe to our Telegram channel.

Help migrant workers in Singapore through these 10 organisations

Help migrant workers in Singapore through these 10 organisations

Help migrant workers in Singapore through these 10 organisations

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of many, but as with any social issue, the effects are disproportionate across different communities.

Some people are more vulnerable than others; for instance, migrant workers in Singapore.

Migrant workers have historically faced several issues in their employment; this article summarises the challenges they face, and names a few organisations that help migrant workers in Singapore.

Background on Migrant Workers in Singapore

Migrant workers faced several issues even before the pandemic; due to their transient nature, most employers see them as cheap, expendable labour that can be easily exploited.

As a result, they face unfairly high fees from agents, low wages and workplace safety hazards all in the name of profit maximisation.

Construction workers

Sourced from pxfuel

Furthermore, migrant workers are less inclined to report such workplace abuse, given that most are afraid of losing their jobs and their income, making them all the more prone to exploitation.

On top of facing such issues, they face the issue of homesickness and loneliness; with limited access to their families and long work hours, it is easy for migrant workers to feel alienated and drained.

They also face xenophobia and discrimination from locals. For instance, some locals have expressed displeasure over the locations of migrant worker dormitories, saying that it lowers property prices (also known as not in my backyard syndrome).

How COVID-19 Impacted Migrant Workers in Singapore

The aforementioned issues were only exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the crowded nature of dormitories, with several migrant workers packed in rooms together, the infection easily spread among them.

During mid-2020, when COVID cases were rising, it was noted that there were often 15 to 20 workers packed into a room with double-decker beds clustered together.

There was poor ventilation, and pre-COVID, the ratio was 15 men to a toilet and shower amenity.

Floorplan dormitory

Sourced from nytimes

In response to the living conditions of migrant workers and the increased xenophobia they faced when dormitories formed COVID-19 clusters, there was an outpouring of support online to improve their living conditions.

New organisations and movements were formed in an effort to help migrant workers alongside pre-existing ones.

While dormitories have been improved upon by the government, migrant workers still face various issues.

For more than 16 months since the pandemic began, migrant workers faced movement curbs; they were largely confined to their dormitories as they were not allowed to go outside.

Despite having access to a recreational centre in the dormitories, visits had to be scheduled in advance and were infrequent with the changing measures.

Another issue that has received attention lately is that of the safety of migrant workers; they are frequently packed into the back of lorries for transportation, which is highly unsafe.

With cases of workers being flung off lorries during traffic incidents increasing, it is no wonder that more and more people are demanding safer transportation.

humansnotcargo instagram post

There are numerous ways to help migrant workers in Singapore — you could volunteer at various migrant worker organisations or donate to them.

Solidarity and support manifest itself in different forms; if you are financially strapped or physically incapable of helping out, you could also sign the petition asking for safer transportation for migrant workers.

While the Ministry of Manpower has announced that they are planning on improving migrant workers’ dormitories, and are easing curb movements, improving the treatment of migrant workers is ultimately a long-term process that requires more voices and support.

Below is a list of organisations you can volunteer at, donate to and support to help migrant workers. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and that certain volunteering services may be regulated due to COVID-19 restrictions.

10 Organisations that Empower Migrant Workers

HOME Singapore

HOME Singapore

Sourced from HOME

HOME, which is short for the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, is a charity dedicated to helping migrant workers who are abused or exploited (i.e. work injuries and wage theft).

Founded in 2004, HOME provides emergency care for workers and also provides long-term services such as counselling.

They provide subsidised dental services and outpatient treatment, as well as free legal aid to workers who require such services.

HOME is a non-governmental organisation; you can help them by volunteering or donating.

Website | Instagram | Facebook

It’sRainingRaincoats

itsrainingraincoats event

ItsRainingRaincoats is another non-profit organisation that aims to help migrant workers integrate into the community and improve their lives.

Their name symbolises the protection they intend to provide workers with during their metaphorical storms.

ItsRainingRaincoats provides services such as organising classes for migrant workers on first aid, as well as a program to befriend migrant workers so as to help them integrate better into Singapore.

You can support the organisation by volunteering with them for various activities (volunteers are encouraged to take up the 6-month stint) or by donations.

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2)

twc2

Sourced from twc2

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) is a non-profit organisation that promotes equitable treatment for migrant workers in Singapore.

They research migrant workers and related policies and are behind programmes such as The Cuff Road Project, which provides free meals to migrant workers out of jobs.

TWC2 engages with various stakeholders such as employers and businesses to protect the welfare of migrant workers. They also are involved in outreach efforts to raise awareness on the treatment of migrant workers.

You can support them by volunteering (a 3-month stint is typically encouraged) or donating.

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Migrant x Me

migrantxme

Sourced from migrantxme

Migrant x Me is a non-profit social enterprise that seeks to raise awareness about migrant workers among youths in Singapore.

They offer school and corporate educational and interactive programmes that help them understand the challenges that migrant workers face.

They also extended a helping hand to migrant workers via COVID-19 relief efforts; they distributed care packs to migrant workers and raised funds to purchase necessities for them.

You can support them by volunteering or donating.

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Humans Not Cargo

Humans not cargo

Humans Not Cargo is a movement that calls for safer transportation for migrant workers.

They are raising awareness on the transport incidents surrounding migrant workers, with the goal of abolishing such practices in the near future.

While not an organisation in the traditional sense, you can still help them spread their message by submitting pictures of migrant workers in lorries or sharing your thoughts on the matter.

Instagram

COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition

WeEat CMSC

Sourced from cmsc_sg | Instagram

The COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC) is a group consisting of volunteers from Geylang Adventures, ItsRainingRaincoats, Singapore Migrant Friends and Migrant x Me. They have various programmes aimed at helping migrant workers.

They are involved in the WeEat campaign, in which they raise funds to purchase hawker food for migrant workers, effectively helping two groups that were severely impacted by the pandemic.

CMSC also provides casework support and engages with policymakers in an attempt to improve the treatment of migrant workers.

You can volunteer with them or donate to them.

LinkTree | Instagram

Welcome in my Backyard

wimbysg event

Sourced from wimbysg

Welcome in my Backyard (WIMBY) is a volunteer-run campaign that raises awareness about the challenges that migrant workers face, with the primary aim of humanising them in society’s eyes.

It directly counters the “not in my backyard” syndrome that some Singaporeans have regarding migrant workers.

WIMBY has various initiatives to help and empower migrant workers and to make them feel welcome in Singapore; for instance, they have school partnerships where students reach out to the migrant workers in their neighbourhood.

You can reach out to them here.

Website | Instagram | Facebook

HealthServe

Healthserve

Sourced from Healthserve

HealthServe is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping migrant workers by providing them “healing and hope”.

They provide healthcare and counselling services to workers and have partnered with schools and corporations to initiate research projects.

They have also launched Singapore’s first 24-hour crisis helpline for migrant workers, which workers or their employers and friends can use.

You can volunteer with or donate to them.

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Friends of Migrant Workers

friend of migrant workers book donation

Friends of Migrant Workers is an online initiative that helps raise funds for migrant workers and is currently helping gather books for a donation drive. The books are to help workers destress while under movement curbs.

While not a traditional non-profit organisation, they also highlight other ongoing donation drives.

You can check their Instagram to see how you could help via donations.

Instagram

Migrant Workers Center

migrant worker centre

Migrant Workers Center (MWC), backed by the National Trades Union Congress, is a non-profit organisation that champions fair employment practices and the well-being of migrant workers in Singapore.

They provide a free legal clinic for workers to consult and collaborates with HealthServe for the Geylang Food Project, in which free meals are provided to migrant workers who have lost their jobs.

You can volunteer with or donate to them.

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Helping migrant workers in Singapore

We hope that this article has proven helpful in your desire to help migrant workers in Singapore.

Other than signing petitions, writing emails, donating and volunteering, there are also other ways to support workers.

For instance, some organisations hold events for workers to display their talents and skills, providing them with a platform to connect with others and expressing their thoughts through art. Attending such events, or helping with the behind-the-scenes planning, would also be helpful.

Ultimately, the treatment of migrant workers is something that we are all responsible for. The pandemic has shed light on the challenges that they face working in Singapore; where possible, let us amplify their voices and help enact change.

For more updates on social issues, do join our Telegram channel or follow us on Instagram.

Plastic Pollution in Singapore: What you need to know

Plastic Pollution in Singapore: What you need to know

Plastic Pollution in Singapore: What you need to know

The climate crisis is nothing new to our lives and our planet. We’ve already seen how the Pandemic has worsened climate change in Singapore.

It is destroying our lives and our planet and will continue to do so if we remain indifferent towards this emergency. Of which, plastic pollution is a major contributor.

In this article, I will be addressing the impacts of plastic waste, plastic capitalism, and what we should do in response to this problem.

What are the effects of plastic pollution in Singapore?

1.) Marine debris

Plastic Pollution: Marine Debris

When the question of plastic waste is brought up, most people would think about the anti-straw movement that spiked in 2018 – “#SaveTheTurtles” may ring a bell to some of us.

Often eaten by seabirds and sea turtles, plastic waste like single-use straws causes starvation and even death to marine life. However, there is more to the effects of plastic pollution than marine debris.

2.) Greenhouse gases

Plastic Pollution: Greenhouse gases

We have to recognise that plastic is made from fossil fuels and emits greenhouse gases.

This means that producing plastic contributes to a rise in greenhouse gases that consequently traps heat in our atmosphere, leading to global warming.

As of 2017, human-induced warming had already reached approximately 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Plastic Pollution: Greenhouse gas

The effects of global warming as such are vast and severe.

These include but are not limited to melting ice, drying out already-arid areas, causing weather extremes and disrupting the delicate balance of the oceans.

For instance, extreme snow storms in the eastern United States have become twice as common as they were in the early 1900s.

3.) Transmission of Diseases

Despite plastic being a durable material, people still succumb to excessive plastic usage.

Across the globe, a plastic bag is used for about 12 minutes before being discarded, when it has a life expectancy of up to 1,000 years.

Singapore is no exception to such wasteful behaviour. On average, each person in Singapore uses 1.6 plastic bags a day, which would allow Singapore to guzzle enough petroleum in a year to drive 8,555 cars around the world.

These statistics reflect the apathy of our citizens towards the climate crisis, as this is twice the usage of an average Malaysian and thrice the figure in Australia.

Plastic Pollution: Plastic waste

The quick disposal of plastic means that there is a great accumulation of plastic waste.

In the last 60 years, humanity has created 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, and 91% of it is not recycled.

In Singapore, in 2018, 94% of plastic waste was not recycled.

Consequently, almost all of the plastic produced is almost immediately sent to the landfill.

A serious problem that waste accumulation leads to is the transmission of diseases by vectors like mosquitoes and rodents, as the waste forms a breeding ground for them.

4.) Lack of landfill spaces

Plastic Pollution: Lack of landfill spaces

On top of disease transmission, in Singapore, our only landfill, Semakau Landfill, will run out of space by 2035.

A key alternative to landfills is incineration, of which, plastic incineration is a major source of air pollution. This releases toxic substances that pose a threat to vegetation, human and animal health, and the environment.

The consequences of plastic waste on climate change are dire, which explains the urgent need to reduce plastic production and plastic pollution in Singapore.

Do Singaporeans know and care about the problems plastic addiction causes?

Plastic Pollution: Do Singaporeans care?

Channel News Asia (CNA) recently commissioned a survey to find out just that.

According to the survey, nearly half of 1,200 respondents did not realise that plastic production and consumption is a climate change problem, reflecting the general lack of awareness towards this issue.

65% claim that they will recycle plastic after use, which might lead us to think that there will be a reduction in the fossil fuels needed to make new plastic. However, only 63% and 60% know to empty their food containers and drink bottles respectively.

This means that when food and liquids are thrown into the blue recycling bins, the rest of the recyclables collected become contaminated and everyone’s recycling efforts will be wasted.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), in 2020, only 4% of all plastic in Singapore gets recycled, so most of them still go to waste.

Plastic Capitalism

Plastic Pollution: Jurong island refineries

Sourced from The Straits Times

When it comes to the climate conversation, blame is often directed towards the consumer. However, it is important that we recognise that much of the responsibility for the growing worldwide plastic production lies with just a handful of powerful corporations.

In our capitalistic world, the fact is that cheap, disposable plastic is good for business. We see this in the excessive packaging used by corporations to persuade consumers to buy their products instead of someone else’s.

Oil and gas superpowers like ExxonMobil and Shell are also interested in plastic coating as many products as possible, so as to strengthen demand for oil drillers to keep drilling.

These are not things that can be managed by the end users, hence the need for corporations to step up.

Even if we brought plastic recycling into the picture, the reality is that most plastic is not recycled even once, since “making new plastic out of oil is cheaper and easier than making it out of plastic trash”.

What should we do about Plastic Pollution in Singapore?

Beyond the individual efforts, we need to engage with the government to call for needed systemic change and place pressure on corporations to reduce environmental harm.

By doing so we can substantially and impactfully tackle plastic waste and the climate crisis at large.

In Singapore, we hold some of the world’s biggest corporate emitters’ refineries (e.g. Exxon, Shell, Chevron), particularly on the reclaimed petrochemical hub Jurong Island.

SG Climate Rally’s Calls to Action includes proposals that will enable the government to actively seek to transition away from economic reliance on fossil fuel businesses as rapidly as feasible.

Large-scale systemic change seems daunting and definitely is not an individual task, which makes strength in numbers crucial in making our voices and concerns heard.

Here are some things we can do individually, as adapted from New Naratif’s “Explainer: The Climate Crisis and Singapore”:

1.) Join the environmental community

Plastic Pollution: Engage in a community

Communities are important in bringing people together to advocate and support one another.

You may keep yourself updated with upcoming events in LepakInSG’s public calendar, and/or join a Green Drinks session for knowledge sharing and collaboration opportunities across businesses, activists, and government.

You may also join the Climate Media Hub Facebook group to share/ discuss news, ask questions, brainstorm ideas for action, or just commiserate about eco-anxiety.

2.) Make your voice heard

Plastic Pollution: Meet the people's session

Sourced from The Straits Times

Reach out to your Members of Parliament (MPs), whether it is through Meet-the-People sessions or via email.

Through this, you may raise questions like those that Ms Anthea Ong raised in 2019.

3.) Volunteer

Plastic Pollution: Volunteer to clean beach

Sourced from The Straits Times

Check out the Lepak Kakis Database which lists active environmental groups in Singapore, such as student groups and social enterprises. On top of this, you may also start a fossil-free campaign at your place of work or school.

Quoting Ms Melissa Low, a research fellow at the NUS Energy Studies Institute, “The plurality of actions needs to be considered. Everybody needs to act, individuals, businesses, governments – everybody needs to chip in, otherwise our efforts will not work.”.

Final thoughts?

While we hold governments and businesses accountable, we should also continue to check ourselves and at the personal level and how we influence systemic changes for the sake of our planet and the generations to come.

How has the pandemic affected the environment?

How has the pandemic affected the environment?

How has the pandemic affected the environment?

Being welcomed into 2021 with thunderous showers and low temperatures, many of us enjoyed sleeping in under our warm blankets and finally being able to flaunt our cute hoodies that have been sitting in our closets for the longest time.

While the first two weeks of the year were pretty shiok, the relentless rainfall has also served to be a cause for concern towards the ongoing climate crisis.

As we enjoyed the cool weather, the reality is that this is a product of our human activities that cause carbon emissions, which (you guessed it) leads to global warming.

And how we have so quickly transitioned back into the familiar humid weather is only evidence of how destructive we have been towards the environment.

I shan’t delve too much into the science stuff here, but I have found @thisisaudsomee’s infographic below rather clear and succinct in helping us to understand this phenomenon.

As much as hitting amongst our highest rainfall in the past 39 years should be a cause of alarm, the truth is that the climate crisis is not news to us.

As a matter of fact, what would be more alarming is not keeping up to date with and taking action to minimise the damage that we, as a human race, are causing to the space we occupy and the lives we reside amongst.

For starters, let us take a little step back into 2020 and identify the impacts the pandemic left on the environment. (I know – terrifying and dreadful – but while we refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of 2020, we still have to acknowledge the problems that it has accentuated, including and especially the climate crisis).

1.) Electricity usage

Electricity usage worsened climate change

Much of 2020 was defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, which served to bring light to several deep-seated problems in our society, such as income disparity, racism, xenophobia, ableism and domestic violence.

Unsurprisingly, it has also accentuated the climate crisis.

When it comes to COVID-19, most of us would remember undergoing a lockdown, having to work, study or simply be at home.

While the reduction of vehicles on the road may seem like good news for the environment, the reality is that staying at home actually caused residential electricity usage to skyrocket.

To put it simply, it is more efficient to centrally control the temperature in a single office building, rather than having all staff members do so in each of their own homes.

2.) Greenhouse gases

More cars lead to more greenhouse gases

Furthermore, with social distancing being so critical now more than ever, people have minimised the use of public transport, and shifted towards greater car usage instead.

Consequently, this could lead to a resurgence in oil consumption, which would necessitate the burning of fossil fuels, contributing significantly to global warming.

The consequences would be severe, especially with how the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has highlighted, “Governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuel in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C”.

Excessive energy usage is but one of the many contributors of the climate crisis, and we see how, through the pandemic, this problem can potentially be exacerbated.

3.) Lack of significant action

Greta thunberg at a Climate rally

On top of this, the governments’ priorities amidst this pandemic also serve to impact the global environmental movement.

Just a year prior, youth climate activist, Greta Thunberg, was at the forefront of the first Global Strike for Climate.

However, governmental efforts have been largely insignificant in tackling this global crisis.

As such, with the COVID-19 pandemic sending the world into panic, the state’s attention was further divided away from the climate crisis.

The incomprehensible environmental negligence has been especially prevalent in the United States of America (the U.S.), with the administration suspending the enforcement of air and water pollution regulations and put on hold the need for environmental review on new infrastructure projects, amongst other environmentally-detrimental responses.

Governmental incompetence hence serves as another key contributor to the climate crisis amidst the pandemic.

We have a together and east coast plan

Speaking of governance, with greater social awareness and a fresh batch of first-time voters, the 2020 General Elections (GE2020) witnessed interesting discussions about the environment.

Interestingly, GE2020 witnessed a surge in attention paid to party manifestos, a phenomenon that is unfamiliar to many who have voted before.

We shall let the scorecard below speak for itself in terms of each party’s position towards climate issues in the run-up to the elections, alongside the Green Charter that Red Dot United (RDU), Singapore’s newest political party, had released.

Overall, we see that the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) seems to be the most promising in its position towards the climate crisis.

Nonetheless, all parties still had massive areas for improvement, “especially their positions on the fossil fuel industry”.

We also see how public attitude towards the environment has greatly weighed in during GE2020.

Community spaces like Neighbourhood Greenwatch have been initiated for voters to push their candidates for more significant commitments in the fight against climate change.

New year, new me

Now that we are 4 months into the new year, we have to be conscious of how this time transition does not simply eradicate the deep-seated problems that fuel the climate crisis.

In order to truly move on from 2020, to start anew, we have to leave behind its problems by taking action now.

Whether it is through raising awareness, changing certain habits, or writing to our ministers, we all have a part to play in combating the climate crisis – leaving it at the status quo would only serve to implode ourselves and our Earth further.

Transgender students and transphobia in Singapore

Transgender students and transphobia in Singapore

Transgender students and transphobia in Singapore

One moment, we were talking about the cooling weather, then we moved on to talk about transgender discrimination (Ashlee’s case), and soon came the #FixSchoolsNotStudents protest.

Not before long came the news of Myanmar’s military coup, then the Tanjong Pagar road accident. 

We barely have time to catch a breath before the next breaking news. 

However, as someone who has experienced transphobia in school, Ashlee’s case, alongside many others, resonated with me – I cannot simply let such conversations fade into the background.

As someone who was part of the protest at the Ministry of Education (MOE) building, news of the arrest is still fresh in my mind.

In this article, I talk about the transphobia that Ashlee explains to have faced in a MOE school, the community support it garnered, and MOE’s response to it. I also note how such stories are more common than you may think.

I then moved on to talk about how, alongside four others, I participated in a protest against transphobia, and again, the statements made in Parliament. Finally, I conclude with a brief note on what we could all do moving forward.

With rapid shifts in the news cycle, I appreciate you taking the time to relive the events that have passed but are still highly relevant especially for former, current, and future transgender students in Singapore.

Transgender students in Singapore

“[…] if I became unable to fit in the boys’ uniform if I somehow got hormone therapy, I would be expelled from school, instead of being allowed to wear the female uniform.”

Aside from the claims of threat of expulsion if she had worn the gendered school uniform that aligns with her gender, Ashlee, a Junior College (JC) student in Singapore, shared more about the transphobia she faced in school on Reddit. 

Most notably, she claims that “the MOE [is] interfering with [her] medical care” despite “getting a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria from the IMH (Institute of Mental Health)”.

Gender dysphoria refers to psychological distress from the incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. 

In Ashlee’s case, as an MTF (Male-to-Female) transgender girl, her gender dysphoria comes from being forced to fit into masculine forms of gender expression, such as having to wear the boys’ school uniform and keep a short haircut.

In response, organisations like Free Community Church, Inter-Uni LGBT Network, Pink Dot SG, and TransgenderSG have jointly signed a statement of solidarity with transgender students in Singapore. 

Sayoni has even come up with an email template for members of the public to send to Members of Parliament (MPs), Ministers, or Ministries to share their concerns over transgender students in schools.

Ashlee’s story has revealed problems of transgender discrimination in Singapore, especially in schools.

Unfortunately, she is not the only one who has suffered under such non-inclusive policies.

“ALL SCHOOLS HAVE A DUTY OF CARE TO STUDENTS”

In a Facebook post, the MOE denies Ashlee’s allegations, and claims that “all schools have a duty of care to students”.

However, they misgendered the student by using the pronoun “his” instead of “her”.

Some teachers, counsellors, social workers, community and youth workers in Singapore have stepped up by signing a statement of support for transgender students. 

As of 9th February 2021, it has since gathered close to 700 individual and group signatories.  

It lists demands for “inclusive policies, training for all teachers and counsellors on gender dysphoria and LGBTQ+ issues, inclusive sexuality education and anti-bullying programmes, and having a statement of inclusion for schools and counsellors to abide by”.

We see how these needs are lacking in schools, with experiences of LGBTQ+ discrimination shared by students and former students on Instagram pages such as @MyQueerStorySG and @MinorityVoices. 

Mel, for instance, recounted how their counsellor told them in the school hall, “You’re not male. And you’ll never be one. No matter how hard you try. Get over it.”.

#FIXSCHOOLSNOTSTUDENTS

With stringent systemic barriers and a severe lack of substantive actions, some transgender folks, and allies, including myself, feel that we have exhausted all legal avenues of advocacy.

On 26th January 2021, four other protestors and I held a peaceful public demonstration outside the MOE building, standing against transphobia in the education system. 

We have also released a press statement illustrating the problems of discrimination in schools, and also “[calling] on Minister Lawrence Wong to end discrimination against LGBTQ+ students by MOE schools, so as to uphold the fundamental right of all students to education within a safe and supportive school life.”.

Since then, conversations have continued in the virtual space, under the hashtag “#FixSchoolsNotStudents” on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. 

Under which, it has been heartening to see people express their support for the transgender community in Singapore, and share their own stories of discrimination in schools.

“CULTURE WARS”

In a Parliament sitting on 1st February 2021 on 1st February 2021, Education Minister Lawrence Wong addressed MP He Ting Ru’s questions on issues of gender dysphoria and gender-based discrimination in schools.

While the topic of discussion was a hopeful step forward, Minister Wong’s response that “we should not import these culture wars into Singapore” has received criticism. 

Critics like Twitter user @LisabelleTay expressed how it “[dismisses] earnest questions about the material welfare of persons”.

Personally, I have also made a note of some supplementary questions I would have raised in response to the ministers’ statements in Parliament.

MOVING FORWARD

Above all, it is important for people in Singapore to keep the conversations about transgender rights going, whether it be with our friends, families, or even MPs, ministers. 

For those of us who are in the position of privilege as cisgender people, it is especially crucial now to step up as allies. 

Start by extending your support to your trans friends and advocate for policies to protect them.

After all, we, the citizens of Singapore, pledge to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.

The 2021 Myanmar Coup Protests explained (as of March)

The 2021 Myanmar Coup Protests explained (as of March)

The 2021 Myanmar Coup Protests explained (as of March)

If you use Instagram or Twitter, chances are that you have seen people posting about the military coup that is still happening in Myanmar. But what exactly is going on and how did this even happen in the first place?

In this article, I have collated a brief timeline of events, as well as Singapore’s role in this entire ordeal. And by the end of the article, you will know of various avenues through which you can support our friends in Myanmar.

What’s happening in Myanmar: a brief timeline

1962:

Ne Win led a military coup, ousting U Nu. He nationalised the economy, forming a single-party state with the Socialist Programme Party as the sole political party, and banning independent newspapers

1990:

Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) wins landslide victory in the general election, but the result is ignored by the military.

8th November 2020:

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the general elections with more than 80% of the votes.

1st February 2021:

Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, launched a military coup, seizing control of Myanmar and declaring a year-long state of emergency.

They justified this by citing “election fraud”, putting Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest, alongside other elected officials from NLD.

Catherine Renshaw, a professor whose research focuses on human rights and democracy in Southeast Asia, writes that fear of prosecution for crimes against humanity (e.g. the Rohingya crisis) is a key factor in this coup.

So, was the alleged voter fraud the reason behind the coup?

Analysts believe that the coup was driven by power and the personal ambition of an army chief who felt he was losing control and respect, putting “his personal ambition ahead of the good of the military and the good of the country”.

While Myanmar is now under the junta’s dictatorship, under Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Ms Suu Kyi called on the public to protest against the military coup.

2nd February 2021:

The three-finger salute has been widely adopted as a protest symbol

The nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) officially starts as an online campaign. Medical professionals were the first to join the CDM on 3rd February 2021.

Despite the military’s aggressive approach in trying to get them to return to work, they have continued on in their participation in the demonstrations.

The CDM Facebook group has garnered more than 100,000 followers, with close to 40 hospitals saying they will refuse to work.

5th February 2021:

The Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) issued a directive to block the social media platforms Twitter and Instagram as people redirected their efforts onto these platforms.

9th February 2021

In the capital Naypyitaw, the Myanmar police started using excessive and lethal force against the protestors. At the age of 19, Mya Thwe Thwe Khine was the first civilian shot and killed by the military despite not engaging in or threatening violent acts. (Rest in power, queen.)

15th February 2021:

Myanmar experiences a ‘near-total Internet shutdown’ as the military government attempts to quell the growing civil disobedience.

22nd February 2021:

The “22222” or “Five Twos” strike against Myanmar’s military junta saw millions of protestors in various cities across Myanmar.

With the closing of businesses and flooding of the streets, organisers said this was the biggest day of defiance since the coup.

This name may ring a bell – more than 30 years ago, the 8888 Uprising in Myanmar was also a significant nationwide pro-democracy movement.

The Tatmadaw was also opening fire on protestors then and Ms Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest.

28th February 2021:

“Milk Tea Alliance” activists across Asia held rallies to support the protestors in Myanmar. Around 200 people in Taipei and dozens in Bangkok, Melbourne and Hong Kong took to the streets, while activists in Indonesia and Malaysia held online protests.

3rd March 2021:

This was the “bloodiest day” since the coup, with at least 38 people killed in Myanmar. These included two boys aged 14 and 17, and a woman aged 19. The military continued to violently suppress the protests despite international condemnation. Witness accounts state that they were opening fire with rubber and live bullets.

13th March 2021:

Activists called for more anti-coup protests on the death anniversary of a student whose killing in 1988 sparked an uprising against the military government. At least six protestors were killed in a police firing in Myanmar overnight.

15th March 2021:

Dr Sasa of Myanmar

Dr SaSa, appointed as Myanmar representative for the United Nations (UN) was charged with high treason and issued a warrant for:

  • Accepting the UN post,
  • Encouraging embassy staff members to join the CDM,
  • Encouraging international communities to impose sanctions on Myanmar,
  • Requesting Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and
  • Holding discussions with ethnic armed organisations (EAOs).

23rd March 2021:

Khin Myo CHit, the 7 year old who died

Khin Myo Chit, a seven-year-old, was shot and hit by the police while she ran towards her father during a raid on their home in Mandalay.

Rights group Save the Children says more than 20 children are among dozens of people who have been killed.

26th March 2021:

The military state media (MRTV) openly threatened the public not to cause civil unrest, stating that soldiers will not hesitate to shoot the younger generations in the head or the back.

27th March 2021:

Armed forces day in Myanmar

CNN labelled Armed Forces Day as the “Day of Shame” for the military after killing at least 114 civilians across 40 towns.

At least 4 children were killed, while tanks and jet planes paraded Naypyidaw as a celebration to glorify the army and implicitly honor their acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

At this point of writing, the protests and military brutality are ongoing in Myanmar.

What’s Singapore’s role in this?

Myanmar may be about 2,429KM away from Singapore, but our nation still has a stake in its current political situation.

Singapore took over China as Myanmar’s top foreign investor in 2019, and with Singapore-based businesses contributing significantly to Myanmar and its powerful military.

As such, Singapore has a strong influence due to their business relations with the Burmese military.

Furthermore, with stringent legislation limiting public demonstrations, the Burmese community in Singapore has also expressed their helplessness towards their situation back home.

In a video interview, a Burmese person expressed, “We are scared to protest in Singapore because the Singapore government will catch us and send us back to Myanmar, so we cannot work here, we will have no salary, and nothing when we go back.”.

Instagram user @beverly.anne, alongside two others, created a resource list about the scope of Singapore’s responsibility to the people of Myanmar, which can be accessed via tinyurl.com/MyanmarSolidaritySG.

Singapore’s response to the Myanmar coup

In response to Parliamentary and Supplementary questions on the situation in Myanmar, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan said, “It is crucial we maintain the separation between politics and business, and let businesses make commercial and investment decisions on their own merits.”.

This sentiment raises concerns towards the government’s sincerity in their expressed “grave concern” over the crisis in Myanmar.

Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, commented, “Singapore’s leaders need to take a good, hard look at the situation in Myanmar and decide if short-term gains from despots are worth the long-term damage their country will face if it’s seen to be complying with dictators and military regimes.”

How can I help?

This link includes key and comprehensive resources for supporting the fight for justice in Myanmar. Taking reference to this source, this is a list of things you can do to help:

1.) Contribute financially

With the people of Myanmar putting their lives on the line to fight for democracy in their country, many have lost their source of income to access basic necessities like food and housing.

As such, you may redistribute your wealth to them through Mutual Aid Myanmar and other avenues of donation listed in this consolidated resource list.

2.) Draw greater attention

Follow the news, both through formal news outlets, as well as Instagram and Twitter accounts like those listed in the infographics above!

3.) Demand action

Write email to your MPs

While ground-up work is important, it is not enough. It is all the more crucial that we reach out to authorities to support the people of Myanmar.

Such can be done through the signing of petitions, which are also listed in this consolidated resource list. Please also add your signature to the open letter requesting the UN to dispatch a monitoring and intervention mission to Myanmar immediately.

I would also encourage you to write directly. There are templates available for you to reach out to your Members of Parliament (MPs) and to request for businesses to defund the junta.

Instagram user @RejectMilitaryCoup has also put together a set of infographics to guide you through the process of writing an email to your MPs.

“ONE VISION, ONE IDENTITY, ONE COMMUNITY”

This is the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) motto.

Democracy is built on the fundament of human right. With the military suppression and violence that our friends in Myanmar are facing, their retaliation against the coup is a fight for the bare minimum, a movement for democracy.

Their struggle should not be and is not in isolation from the rest of the world – our globalization and interconnectedness simply do not allow for that.

This is not a request, but demand for action: Please support our friends in Myanmar as best as you can.

Beyond being a part of one ASEAN community, we are one human race – it is our duty to amplify their voices, to offer our support, to redistribute our privilege.