WHEN WILL THE VIOLENCE END?
Violence against women, particularly domestic and sexual violence, has long been a major problem. And for a very long time, women suffered in silence. What happened in the home was seen as a private matter, and the authorities had limited scope to take action. When Singapore in 1961 passed the Women’s Charter and gave women equal rights with men in a marriage, nothing was said about protecting women from domestic violence. The police and hospitals had no training in how to handle rape cases, and women who reported rapes suffered further trauma and often also victim-blaming. Today there is greater understanding of the issues and better support for survivors. But the problem of violence against women continues.
1961The landmark Women's Charter bans polygamy for non-Muslim women and gives women equal rights with men in marriage, but it is silent on domestic violence.
1981A year after it is formed, the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) holds a forum on Violence against Women to create awareness of issues such as rape and wife battering, and to discuss how to help abused women and how to end the violence.
1987SCWO, the Association of Women for Advocacy and Research (AWARE), and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) form the Task Force for the Prevention of Violence against Women. This leads to a year-long ‘Stop Violence against Women’ campaign.
The Society against Family Violence (SAFV) is formed. It works with the Police Academy on the first programme to train police officers to deal with domestic violence cases.
1988To wrap up the year-long ‘Stop Violence against Women’ campaign, the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers (SAWL) and AWARE publish Men, Women and Violence: A Handbook for Survival.
1991After a pilot project conducted with the help of two newspapers, The New Paper and Shin Min Daily News, AWARE launches a women’s helpline.
1995Nominated Member of Parliament Kanwaljit Soin tables the Family Violence Bill. It’s not passed but its key proposals are included when the Women’s Charter is revised in 1996. Domestic violence is now recognised and addressed by the state.
1996The National Family Violence Networking System (NFVNS) is set up to address the problem of family violence. It connects the police, hospitals, prisons, social service agencies, the courts and the Ministry for Social and Family Development (MSF).
1999SCWO starts the Star Shelter, the first secular women’s shelter in Singapore. And Promoting Alternatives to Violence (PAVE) is set up to work with both perpetrators and victims of interpersonal violence.
2008AWARE conducts a study of workplace sexual harassment and finds that 54% of respondents have experienced sexual harassment at work.
2011AWARE launches a care centre for survivors of sexual assault, the first such service in Singapore. Speaking at the launch, Law Minister K Shanmugam says he will repeal an archaic law that allows an alleged sexual assault victim’s evidence to be discredited because of her sexual history.
2014The Protection from Harassment Act comes into force and brings stalking and cyber bullying under the law.
2016MSF launched a 3-year “Break the Silence” campaign in 2016. A survey finding showed that close to 42% cited family violence as a private matter and almost 37% cited not being sure of what family violence constituted.
2017The #MeToo movement in the US, first launched in 2006, catches fire when dozens of women speak up about being harassed and assaulted by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. It ripples across the world, encouraging women to speak out and name their harassers.
2018The Penal Code Review Committee recommends that marital immunity for rape be repealed. In 2019 Parliament passes the Criminal Law Reform Bill and soon marital rape will be treated as a crime.
2019A National University of Singapore (NUS) student is filmed in the shower by a male student, and complains to the university authorities. Unhappy with the way the university handles the case, she takes to social media.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung says NUS and all the other universities should take a tougher stand on sexual misconduct on campus. NUS improves support for victims, introduces harsher penalties for offenders, and tightens security on campus.
A woman’s body is her own. And even if she’s your wife, she’s entitled to say no – and no means no.
Campaigner dedicated to improving the lives of women
A founding member of AWARE in 1985, orthopaedic surgeon Kanwaljit Soin was Singapore’s first female Nominated Member of Parliament from 1992 to 1996. In 1995 she tabled in Parliament the Family Violence Bill. It was not passed, but its key proposals – such as Personal Protection Orders for victims of domestic abuse − were later included in amendments to the Women’s Charter. In 1998 Kanwaljit started the Association of Women Doctors, and in 2007 she founded WINGS, which promotes active ageing for women.
Lawyer and women’s rights activist
Anamah Tan was a founder member of the SAWL in 1974. She was also a founder member of the SCWO in 1980. As SCWO president from 1992 to 2000, Anamah was the driving force behind the establishment of the Star Shelter, Singapore’s first secular shelter for women in distress. In 2004, she successfully sought a seat on the United Nations’ Committee that monitors the progress of countries that have signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Champion of civil society
Constance Singam’s journey as an activist began in 1986 when she joined an AWARE committee looking into violence against women. She was AWARE’s president in 1987 and 1988. Under her leadership, AWARE, together with SCWO and the National Crime Prevention Council, launched a year-long ‘Stop Violence against Women’ campaign. In 1990 Constance became SCWO president. During her two-year term as SCWO president, together with representatives from AWARE, SAWL, and Samaritans of Singapore, she initiated discussions with the police about the better handling of rape cases.