The sequence of events popularly known as the AWARE saga was a landmark in Singapore's feminist, human rights and LGBT history. Stretching over a period of 6 weeks, it began on 28 March 2009 as an orchestrated takeover of the leadership of Singapore's leading gender equality organisation, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), by a group of women (and some men) with strong anti-LGBT and right-wing Christian leanings. The debacle garnered intense publicity in the media, fuelled a heated debate and ended with the ousting of the new guard by around 3000 women outraged by the inexperienced executive committee's questionable actions and agenda. These women lent their voices and votes to a remarkable display of civic engagement and passion at the extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held at the Suntec City Convention Centre on 2 May 2009.
- 1 Dramatic leadership takeover
- 1.1 New executive committee members
- 1.1.1 Claire Nazar quits
- 1.1.2 Josie Lau appointed new president
- 1.1.3 Old guard's reaction to new exco
- 1.1.4 New exco refuses press interviews
- 1.1.5 DBS Bank upset over Josie Lau's appointment
- 1.1.6 Background checks on new exco members
- 1.1 New executive committee members
- 2 Old guard calls for extraordinary general meeting
- 3 Josie Lau's letter to media
- 4 Braema Mathi sacked as CEDAW committee chairman
- 5 Old guard's response to Josie Lau's letter
- 6 Talking Point interviews new exco members
- 7 New exco holds press conference
- 8 AWARE office locks changed, centre manager fired
- 9 Old guard holds press conference
- 10 Minister Vivian Balakrishnan comments on AWARE saga
- 11 "We are AWARE" campaign video
- 12 MOE contacts Thio Su Mien regarding allegations about AWARE's sexuality education programme
- 13 National Council of Churches of Singapore issues statement
- 14 Extraordinary general meeting at Suntec City
- 15 Newly elected exco to amend Constitution
- 16 Talking Point interviews Dana Lam & Braema Mathi
- 17 Reinstated old guard resumes office, makes changes
- 18 Petition to MOE regarding sexuality education
- 19 MOE reviews schools' sexuality education programmes
- 20 Attendance boost at Pink Dot
- 21 AWARE's new directions
- 22 Report on review of AWARE's CSE programme
- 23 Book published
- 24 9th Anniversary of AWARE saga
- 25 Where Were You? AWARE Saga 10th Anniversary Party
- 26 SAGA: Podcast Premiere and Listening Party
- 26.1 Message from creators of SAGA
- 26.2 Trailer
- 26.3 Episode One: Strangers
- 26.4 Episode Two: The Coup
- 26.5 Episode Three: The Letters
- 26.6 SAGA Episode Four Sneak Preview with Preetipls
- 26.7 Episode Four: Old Guard, New Guard
- 26.8 Episode Five: Saviour
- 26.9 Episode Six: Informants
- 26.10 Episode Seven: Showdown
- 26.11 Episode Eight: Feminist Mentor
- 26.12 Episode Nine: B-WARE
- 26.13 "Extraordinary": SAGA Zoom Listen Party
- 26.14 Episode Ten: Extraordinary, Part One
- 26.15 Episode Eleven: Extraordinary, Part Two
- 26.16 Episode Twelve: The Winners
- 27 See also
- 28 References
- 29 Acknowledgements
Dramatic leadership takeover
In March 2009, AWARE saw a dramatic and unexpected changing of the guard which some members described as nothing short of a leadership grab. As a lead-up to the debacle, a sudden and unprecedented spike in membership had been noted since January 2009.
When AWARE held its annual general meeting (AGM) on Saturday, 28 March 2009, everyone expected the usual - no more than 30 or 40 members turning up at its headquarters at 5 Dover Crescent, #01-22, Singapore 130005 for its executive committee elections, and a prepared slate of candidates would be voted into office easily. Instead, more than 100 people came (3 times the usual turnout), about 80% of whom had joined AWARE only in recent months. By 2pm that day, the AWARE Centre was teeming with women. Almost all of them were middle-aged Chinese ladies who appeared unfamiliar with the Centre. Both the air-conditioned conference room and the lobby had to be used to accommodate the large turnout. That was the first indication that this election would be a watershed.
To kick off the proceedings, Constance Singam, then 72 years of age and the outgoing president and chairman of the AGM, nominated Claire Nazar for the presidency. She spoke glowingly about Nazar's work on the sexual harassment committee. Nazar was elected unopposed.
The anomaly began when a hand was raised, innocently enough, by new member, Jenica Chua, who wanted to nominate another newcomer, Charlotte Wong for vice-president. Wong's nomination raised eyebrows among AWARE veterans. A new member for vice-president was unheard of.
When Wong made her pitch and listed her credentials, she hardly mentioned a word about feminism. A veteran remarked in retrospect, "Many of us wondered what has this woman done for AWARE to deserve to be second-in-charge?" They wondered how her accomplishments compared with an incumbent, Chew I-Jin, who had been volunteering for more than a decade. How did Wong compare with someone who had pounded the streets handing out flyers and manned the phone for hours counselling desperate women? How much did Wong even know about AWARE? Did she stand a chance?
It turned out that she did! When both of them left the room, and it was time to vote, Wong won by a huge margin. The veterans were shocked. They did not know Wong. Neither did they know the women who voted for her. That was how AWARE's number two spot went to an unknown. This process, whereby a new member would nominate another new member, who was then voted in by new members, repeated itself when Jenica Chua was elected honorary secretary.
By this time, older members were becoming alarmed. One said she felt uncomfortable with the new members running for positions because they did not understand AWARE enough, and had not done enough for AWARE. But a new member replied that Singam was looking for new faces, and they were new faces. The pattern continued. All but one of the key positions were won by large margins via the new voters. Only another key position, assistant honorary treasurer, went to Chew, and it was a walkover. When it came to voting in committee members, each of the 13 nominees gave a speech and the ones with the top six votes were to get in.
During the meeting, some veteran members started searching the Internet for the backgrounds on the more vocal new members. They discovered that many of them had written strongly worded letters to the press against gay "lifestyles". This, combined with the increasingly obvious voting pattern, prompted the veteran members to start asking a lot more questions. A veteran member pointedly asked a new member what she felt about homosexuality. Her reply was that she did not accept it. The veteran member rebutted, "But in AWARE, we do not discriminate." The new member retorted that she just did not agree with gay lifestyles. Eventually, she got voted in.
Constance Singam upheld her responsibility as President to chair the AGM and stayed for its entire duration. One nominee, a veteran member, spoke passionately about the need to educate teenagers about safe sex and the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. She got one of the lowest number of votes. Throughout the meeting, several veterans said they were happy that so many people were interested in AWARE, but advised these members to familiarise themselves with AWARE before running for key positions. Their advice went unheeded. When the meeting ended at 5:30pm, only 3 of the 12 newly elected personnel were veterans - they included Chew I-Jin as assistant honorary treasurer and Caris Lim Chai Leng as an exco member. 9 seats went to the newcomers.
However, three hours into the AGM, Caris Lim also left the meeting. Red eyed and with a trembling voice, she said, 'I'm very disillusioned. I don't like what's going on inside, so I'm walking out.' She would not elaborate further and departed hurriedly. Approached later to comment on Lim's exit from the meeting, Constance Singam said, 'We are not resigning. It's an organisation we've been committed to for a long time.'
The elections left only two AWARE veterans, president Claire Nazar and assistant honorary treasurer Chew I-Jin, with the rest of the all-new team.
New executive committee members
President: Claire Nazar
Vice-president: Charlotte Wong Hock Soon (consultant with ExxonMobil where she worked for 21 years; former sociology and anthropology lecturer at the National University of Singapore).
Honorary secretary: Jenica Chua Chor Ping (then in her 30s; management consultant with a top business technology company).
Assistant honorary secretary: Sally Ang Koon Hian (ran own law firm, Sally Ang Ebenezer and Company; had more than 30 years of legal experience).
Honorary treasurer: Maureen Ong Lee Keang (last appointment: executive vice-president at SembCorp Group).
Assistant honorary treasurer: Chew I-Jin (Aware member since May 1995; previously served on the exco in the 1995-1996 term of office and as honorary treasurer in the 2008-2009 term).
- Josie Lau Meng Lee (then 48, vice-president and head of marketing, cards and unsecured Loans, DBS; mother of two daughters, aged 17 and 15; married to Dr. Alan Chin Yew Liang who owned several clinics under the Lifeline Medical Group).
- Catherine Tan Ling Ghim (financial planner; member of Million Dollar Round Table).
- Lois Ng (social entrepreneur who ran a business that hired disabled people to produce gifts for tourists and corporate markets; former journalist with The New Paper, 1990-1995).
- Irene Yee Khor Quin (over 10 years of professional experience in financial services).
- Peggy Leong Pek Kay (lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Humanities with 16 years of teaching experience).
- Caris Lim (freelance social worker, counsellor and trainer; member of AWARE since 2000; exco member in the 2008-2009 term).
Claire Nazar quits
Claire Nazar, a former corporate counsel, was an older member who had joined AWARE in January 2008 and was elected unopposed as president. She was nominated by outgoing AWARE head Constance Singam. But eleven days into her new term, and before making her first statement as president, Nazar quit suddenly, on Wednesday, 8 April 2009.
Nazar confirmed with the media that she had resigned and initially declined to comment further. It was not known who would then become president. However, Nazar later revealed to The Straits Times in an article dated 20 April 2009 that it was because she 'did not want the hassle' of working with the new executive committee, which she felt was 'too gung-ho' for her with its 'Stormtrooper tactics'.
"For starters, the new exco did not seem to take kindly to having input from former president Constance Singam or any of the veteran members of the 24-year-old women's group, Nazar explained. She was also troubled by how at the first exco meeting - a 3 1/2-hour session - about a week after the AGM on 28 March 2009, the committee replaced almost all the appointed chairpersons of subcommittees based only on a majority vote. That broke with AWARE's tradition of allowing chairpersons who were doing a good job to continue their work. Worse, they kept Nazar, then 37 years of age, out of the loop on various matters, and even insisted that she complete the AGM minutes within days.
The members visited the AWARE office so frequently that staff, who had not got used to the idea of the newcomers, were jittery and complained about their requests. 'They come in, take charge - almost every day they're at the AWARE office, getting hold of documents, reading them, making their presence felt.' The irony was that Nazar had nominated six of the current remaining 11 exco members. This came about after Singam advised her to include fresh blood among the exco members who could then work with older members to ensure continuity.
Of the six, two were old-time AWARE members, Chew I-Jin and Caris Lim, and another was Nazar's former classmate, Catherine Tan. The other three, Peggy Leong, Lois Ng and Josie Lau, were acquaintances. She picked them based on their credentials and 'the merit of their previous experience'. Besides, she added, 'they had expressed keen interest, and I thought they were people I could work with'. Josie Lau was in fact an acquaintance of Nazar's husband, lawyer Boaz Nazar, who was also a deacon at Cornerstone Community Church. He had met her in the course of his social work. At Nazar's urging, Lau joined AWARE at the start of the year. Nazar said that since joining AWARE, she had made it a habit of asking women to sign up.
Unlike previous AGMs, where 30 or 40 people would turn up, the March 28 meeting was attended by more than 100. Many were new faces and new AWARE members. Nazar said she at first put it down to a recent surge in AWARE membership. 'I just thought, 'Wow this is interesting.' Nobody thought too much about it.' She won the presidency unopposed. But when Chew was knocked out of the running for vice-president, it dawned on her that something was amiss, she said. Nazar responded by nominating Chew for the post of assistant honorary treasurer. Chew was returned unopposed.
In the end, all six of Nazar's nominees got into the exco. Five others - all recent members - were also voted in. She was shocked at the outcome, she said. 'Of course I was. Who wouldn't be?' It soon became apparent that the new exco did not share many of her views, she said. Being a member of AWARE for only a little over a year herself, she felt that she and the exco's newest members could use the advice of those more senior. Ultimately, she said, 'the majority of the new exco members did not share my views or direction, particularly with regard to their call for an overhaul of existing chairs of key sub-committees to be replaced by new members. I personally disagreed with the exco's approach'. She quit to avoid the 'in-house politicking'. 'I didn't want to waste my time. Every hour spent at AWARE means one hour away from my family and children...I'm quite happy to step out of the picture,' said the mother of two young children, who is also a marriage counsellor.
Josie Lau appointed new president
On Wednesday night, 15 April 2009, during a new exco meeting which lasted nearly four hours, Josie Lau Meng Lee, then 48 years of age and a DBS executive holding the post of vice-president of consumer banking group cards and unsecured loans, was appointed as AWARE's new president. She had been on the new exco since the AGM elections held on 28 March 2009 but did not hold any office.
After midnight, in the early hours of 16 April 2009, the new exco issued a press release announcing Lau's appointment as president. It acknowledged the contributions of AWARE and its past members and pledged to build on their work.
The new team did not indicate what they intended doing differently from the previous leadership. Nor did they deal with the buzz over their takeover of AWARE, in particular, concerns expressed about their conservative views on sexuality.
A beaming Lau refused to take questions from reporters when she emerged from the exco meeting. But she said she was pleased and delighted to be president.
'Together with the new exco which was duly elected under the Constitution, I will build on the good work of the past AWARE members who advanced the causes for women in all areas of society through advocacy, research and community work,' she said.
The following day, on Friday, 17 April 2009, Lau sent the media a statement (see section further below) in which she said, among other things, that the new exco was eager to start work but 'there were repeated delays in convening the first exco meeting. Nazar kept re-scheduling the meeting'.
Old guard's reaction to new exco
In response to Lau's comments, Nazar remarked: 'What delays are they talking about?' She said potential meeting dates were being bandied about to accommodate the schedules of both the new and old excos, something that could hardly be called repeated rescheduling. 'In fact, when we finally settled on the date, I wrote to them half-jokingly: "Can you please be living proof that women can work together?"' As to whether the new team had what it took to run AWARE, Nazar replied: 'in terms of their work skills, yes'. But in terms of their people skills, she would only say 'no comment'.
Of the fear among veteran AWARE members that the new exco was out to change the group's all-inclusive stand on matters like sexuality, she said: 'So far, in my 11 days of dealing with them, I've not found anything negative in terms of their intentions. What people are most worried about seems to be whether they are going to be taking an anti-gay stance. In that sense, I highly doubt it. AWARE is all about being anti-discrimination.' The Sunday Times tried to reach several exco members for their comments on what Nazar said, but all had either their cellphones switched off or were not picking up calls.
Nazar explained that she was motivated to join AWARE in January 2008 because it championed women's issues. 'I've always had a passion for advocacy because both my parents were born deaf-mute. I had to learn from a very young age to take care of them and speak up on their behalf,' said the only child of a seamstress mother and artist father. She also wanted to contribute on matters related to family and marriage, especially the plight of working mothers.
Shortly after she joined, Constance Singam, then AWARE's president, invited her to be part of the exco. She accepted. Earlier in 2009, when Singam mentioned she needed a successor, Nazar offered to stand. 'I wanted to continue the work that AWARE was doing. I saw it as my job to review initiatives which had been left on the backburner, and revive the ones that worked.'
She said the old guard was supportive, and had urged her to hang on to her position. They also do not seem to blame her for bringing in the new members. 'The first thing I did after I resigned was to call up Constance Singam and apologise.' She added that she would continue to stay an active member of AWARE, but said the public fallout since then has been 'the most horrible thing that has happened to me'.
Indeed, after her resignation, questions about Nazar were also raised. The buzz surrounded a letter she wrote to The Straits Times Forum page in July 2007 in which she voiced her concerns about same-sex couples. But she explained: 'My letter was against same-sex marriages and the impact on children. It was not anti-gay, which is discrimination against homosexuals.'
By association, her beliefs - that she is opposed to premarital sex, abortion and homosexuality - came to the fore. Sighing, she said: 'For the record, I am not anti-gay.' As to the speculation that she was part of a concerted effort by the new guard to oust the old, but who pulled out at the last minute, she replied in a word: 'No.' 'I just want to see AWARE moving forward, and I really don't care who does it, as long as they can account for themselves.'"
Tan Joo Hymn & Dana Lam
Former president Tan Joo Hymn, then 38, said that the big turnout at the AGM surprised her. “I arrived at the meeting late and found out that I was No. 100 on the attendance list. I’ve been a member for 10 years, and never before has there been such a turnout,” said the former lawyer who was then a full-time mother.
Tan added, “We were simply outnumbered. Technically, they got in legitimately.” She added that the way the election proceeded was so unusual, it was hard to imagine that the takeover was not a planned effort. “It could not be pure coincidence,” she said.
Another former president, writer Dana Lam, then 57, said: “There were many faces I had not seen before, and I found that very strange. “In previous years, even if there were new members, they would be known to one or more of the older members.”
“When asked if they believed in equality, they kept repeating they were there to support women and to make sure they got ahead and got all the opportunities given to them,” Dana Lam said.
Lam recalled, “It was alarming. How could a new member who had just joined for a couple of months, and whom we knew nothing about, be picked over someone who has been with AWARE for more than 15 years?”
The first indication that something was afoot came when AWARE veteran Chew I-Jin was challenged and defeated handsomely by new member Charlotte Wong Hock Soon for the post of vice-president.
Chew was later elected unopposed as assistant honorary treasurer. “It was alarming,” said Dana Lam. “How could a new member who had just joined for a couple of months, and whom we knew nothing about, be picked over someone who has been with AWARE for more than 15 years?”
Some of the older members immediately began checking the attendance list. Tan Joo Hymn said, “We found that about 80 of the 102 who turned up were new members who joined between January and March this year.” AWARE, a feminist group that had prided itself on being “all inclusive”, had never vetted the people who applied to be members. Men could join too, as associate members.
As it dawned on them that a leadership grab was imminent, some older members at the AGM tried asking the newcomers who they were, what they stood for, and why they wanted to be in charge.
They got only the briefest answers, they said. Dana Lam said she tried suggesting that new members serve a stint on AWARE’s various subcommittees before standing for election to leadership positions. But such suggestions went unheeded as the election proceeded, with more newcomers winning executive committee positions by landslide margins.
Ironically, the old guard at AWARE had been working towards changing their Constitution to make it a rule that only those who had been members for at least a year would be eligible to join the exco. At the time, there was no rule to bar a brand new member from seeking office, and that was what happened at the AGM.
But little was known of AWARE’s new leaders, aside from the fact that they included women from the corporate sector, lawyers, company directors and academics. Older members said the newcomers spoke well but would not elaborate on their plans for AWARE.
Older members were keen to know if the newcomers shared AWARE’s vision and values, including equality for all regardless of race, religion or sexuality.
But one outspoken new member from the floor, who identified herself as Angela Thiang, said questions about the new office bearers’ religion and their stand on homosexuality were not relevant.
“If you are keen to serve, you don’t challenge every position. We do not know who they are,” said the former journalist who was then in Bangkok doing consultancy work for international women’s group Unifem.
“It is very troubling, more so, because I’ve heard the new president has resigned.” Almost a fortnight into their new roles, the new leaders of AWARE were not entertaining calls from the media this week.
The most frequently asked questions: Who were the new women in charge, why did they want the leadership, and what were their plans for AWARE? Braema Mathi said: “The building of an institution takes many years; building its value system is even harder. Why can’t they come in and be part of the process, and build it together and in a more evolutionary manner? That way, the comfort level will be high for everyone.”
Former newspaper editor and media consultant Peter Lim, a longtime associate member of AWARE, said he was very surprised to learn what had taken place. Asked why he thought a group of newcomers would want to take control, he said he did not know if it was an orchestrated effort.
But he thought AWARE would be attractive to those seeking to be in charge of an established institution. Setting up a new outfit would take too much time and trouble.
“AWARE is a brand name and most people regard it as the leading voice of the feminists and modern women in Singapore,” said Lim.
Former president Braema Mathi stressed, “The building of an institution takes many years; building its value system is even harder. Why can’t they come in and be part of the process, and build it together and in a more evolutionary manner? That way, the comfort level will be high for everyone.”
Of the other committee members, only Chew I-Jin and Caris Lim were longtime members of AWARE.
Chew had been nominated by the AWARE old guard for the vice-president’s post but was trounced by newcomer Charlotte Wong, and had to settle for the assistant treasurer’s position, which she won without a contest.
New exco refuses press interviews
New honorary secretary Jenica Chua Chor Ping announced that a press release would be issued “in a few days” and added that until then, the committee would not answer any questions.
The Straits Times e-mailed AWARE that week requesting interviews with members of the new committee, but did not receive a reply. The newspaper also tried contacting some of the members – Jenica Chua, Josie Lau and Lois Ng – on their mobile phones, hoping they might shed light on who they were, how they were connected to other newly elected office-bearers, or what they were planning to do now that they were in charge.
Lau and Ng could not be reached. Chua confirmed that she was on the new executive committee and said AWARE would be releasing a press statement in “the next few days”.
But she flatly refused to take any more questions. The Straits Times also contacted two other new members who were at the AGM: Angela Thiang, who spoke up in support of the newcomers who stood for election, and Dr Alan Chin, who helped to count the votes.
Thiang said she would return the call, but did not. She could not be reached subsequently. Chin confirmed that he was an AWARE member but, like the others, refused to answer any questions. The position of the new guard was: No comment, for now.
DBS Bank upset over Josie Lau's appointment
Shortly after Josie Lau announced that she was AWARE's new president, posed for pictures and made brief comments to reporters, her employer, DBS Bank, issued a statement on the night of Wednesday, 15 April 2009, expressing unhappiness that she had taken the top post.
DBS said it had told her just before the AWARE exco meeting on 15 April 2009 that it did not support her running for president. The bank said it supported employees' participation in community work, but they needed approval before taking on external appointments.
And Lau did not have the green light to be AWARE president.
'We believe that as a vice-president in DBS, she already has a challenging job with many responsibilities, and the role of president would demand too much of her time and energy,' a DBS spokesman said.
DBS said it was only on the afternoon of Wednesday, 15 April 2009, just hours before the exco was due to pick the new president, that Lau informed the bank of her intentions.
'We reviewed her request and subsequently informed her that while the bank continued to support her involvement in Aware, we could not support her intention to run for president, given the demands associated with the top post of a leading advocacy group in Singapore,' a spokesman said.
DBS was upset that Lau ignored a code of conduct that applied to all staff. 'We are disappointed that Josie knowingly disregarded DBS' staff code of conduct twice. Such an attitude is not one that DBS, or any other organisation, can condone in a leader,' the spokesman said.
The bank then conducted an internal review over how Lau disregarded its advice against taking on the top post at AWARE.
The public rebuke shocked not only Aware members who have been dealing with a string of dramatic events recently, but also others who thought it unfair for the bank to say Lau had too much on her plate at work to take on a voluntary position.
On Thursday, 16 April 2009, DBS Bank revealed that Lau had breached its staff code of conduct twice in recent weeks.
She did not tell the bank before running for a spot on the Aware executive committee, revealing that only two weeks after the 28 March 2009 annual general meeting. Yet, the bank decided to support her carrying on as an Aware exco member.
Lau could not be reached to comment as the new team wanted media queries to be channelled via the AWARE office. New exco member Lois Ng said Lau was the only Aware official allowed to respond to media queries, but she was going through 'a difficult period'.
The turn of events left some incredulous Aware members asking if they would witness the election of a third new president soon.
Former Aware vice-president Margaret Thomas thought Lau might then have to choose between her job and Aware.
She found DBS' public rebuke of Lau most unusual and it made her wonder whether there were any other reasons for DBS to be concerned about her prominent role at Aware.
The leadership change at Aware had created an immense public buzz, with concerns over what the new team was planning and its views on various issues, including homosexuality.
In 2008, DBS Bank drew protests from some customers upset that it had chosen the group Focus on the Family as the beneficiary for a charity drive. Customers pointed out that the charity, and its American parent body, took a conservative Christian stand against abortion and homosexuals.
Lau's division was given the job of recommending a charity for DBS to support. Neither she nor the bank would comment on that.
Background checks on new exco members
Anti-gay letters to press
An initial check showed that some of those at the AGM and on the new committee had appeared in The Straits Times Forum Page. Jenica Chua, Angela Thiang and Dr Alan Chin, a male associate member of AWARE who attended the AGM on 28 March 2009, helped count the votes and supported the newcomers, all wrote letters to this newspaper between August and October 2007.
In a letter dated 17 October 2007, Jenica Chua said NMP Siew Kum Hong had overstepped his non-partisan role and advanced the homosexual cause by tabling a petition in Parliament to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalised homosexual sex between consenting men.
In another letter on 25 October 2007, she took issue with a Straits Times report which said NMP Thio Li-Ann had been “visibly distraught” when she opposed Siew’s petition vigorously.
Chua said Thio had dealt with several points succinctly, with humour and passion. Dr Chin and Angela Thiang both wrote letters to caution against the risks of promoting the homosexual lifestyle. Meanwhile, news of AWARE’s AGM had spread among older members who did not attend the meeting, as well as civil society groups.
A later Straits Times article dated 18 April 2009 furnished personal details on what the paper called "AWARE's power couple" - newly elected president Josie Lau and her husband Dr Alan Chin.
Josie Lau Meng Lee was described as sociable, chatty and a lover of good food by those who knew her. When Lau had her wonton mee, she liked the noodles cooked in fresh, boiling water. If it was not done right, she would send it back. That was how finicky the 48-year-old DBS vice-president and new AWARE chief was about her food.
None of her colleagues and ex-colleagues who spoke to The Straits Times had heard her speak about involvement in volunteer work.
But they were well-acquainted with her gourmet and jetsetting lifestyle, cultivated in part by her work organising glamorous fashion, food and lifestyle events, and accompanying her doctor-husband to medical conferences overseas.
In previous interviews with the newspaper, Lau said that she and her husband, Dr Alan Chin, had not missed a single World Gourmet Summit since its inception in 1997.
'I live to eat, rather than eat to live,' she said in a 2004 interview, adding that she attended seven Gourmet Summit events that year.
'I'm the type who would rather go hungry than have terrible food,' she said then. 'I send things back to the kitchen if they're not up to standard, even wonton noodles from hawker stalls.'
She was known to frequent upmarket eateries as well as hawker centres.
Friends described the well-groomed mother of two teenagers as sociable and chatty. One long-time friend said she was a 'complete opposite' of her more serious husband.
Her curriculum vitae, released by AWARE, said she was instrumental in developing high-profile events like the Singapore Food Festival, Great Singapore Sale and Singapore Fashion Festival.
A former colleague at the STB recalled another side of Lau, saying she enjoyed listening to Christian music in her office.
She would also tell single colleagues that if they wanted to find a spouse, the best place to look was in church. And she would encourage them to attend.
As for areas she would be interested in in her new role, the AWARE write-up said she was most concerned about work-life balance and the role of mothers as a stabilising factor in a family.
Lau made brief comments to reporters after her appointment as president on the night of 15 April 2009, but had otherwise remained uncontactable.
She had not taken questions about herself or her plans for AWARE, or DBS Bank's public criticism of her for flouting bank rules by joining the AWARE exco without its approval and defying her bosses' advice against becoming president.
Dr Alan Chin
A companion Straits Times article published on the same day also disclosed personal details of Lau's husband, Dr Alan Chin Yew Liang.
The report revealed that Chin was quiet and devoted to religious activities. He had expressed his views on homosexuality before in letters to the Straits Times Forum.
Lau may have been a livewire but Chin was the quiet one. His friends remarked that Chin, then 51, had never been known to be the life of the party.
In fact, he had stopped going to parties in recent years, preferring to devote his time to religious activities, according to a longtime friend.
Chin made his presence felt at the AWARE AGM on March 28 even though he could not vote.
AWARE had long accepted men as associate members and he had recently joined. His wife joined in January 2009.
Old guard members at the AGM said that he was one of the many unfamiliar new faces who turned up and, during the elections, had helped to count the votes.
Later, when they checked to find out who he was, all they could find was that he had penned six letters to The Straits Times between May and August 2007 speaking out against the "homosexual lifestyle", and citing the higher incidence of HIV cases among homosexuals.
In one letter, he said that homosexuals could change their sexual orientation.
They were married in the 1980s at the Anglican St Andrew's Cathedral, soon after he graduated from medical school at the National University of Singapore.
He and three classmates set up Lifeline Medical Group, which had since expanded to encompass nine general practitioner clinics and one aesthetic clinic.
Among the partners was well-known watch collector and horology expert Dr Bernard Cheong, then 51, who had known Chin since they were first-year medical students.
'He's a nice guy, and he and Josie are a very loving couple. I would definitely want him as my doctor,' Cheong said with a hearty laugh.
When The Straits Times called him, Dr Chin declined to be interviewed, but asked to be contacted through his e-mail address. He did not respond to questions nor subsequent messages.
In an interview published in the Singapore Medical Association's newsletter in January 2007, he described himself and his interests.
He said his parents were the biggest influence on his early life, and his father told him when he was in primary school that God had given him intelligence and that he would succeed if he worked hard, he said in the same interview.
He revealed that he spent Sunday mornings going to church and spending time with his family, his favourite book was the Bible, and his favourite song was Faith by Jason Upton, an American Christian singer-songwriter.
He also let on some nuggets about himself - his biggest indulgence was buying a BMW Cabriolet and he thought everyone should watch The Lord Of The Rings because it was the 'best show and trilogy ever!'.
The BMW Cabriolet has since given way to a Toyota MPV, a friend said.
In the same 2007 interview, when asked what he wanted to be remembered for, he said, "a loving husband and father and a loyal friend".
When contacted, NMP Thio declined to answer any questions. Chin did not respond to questions e-mailed to him either.
However, checks showed that Dr Thio Su Mien and her husband, Thio Gim Hock, the chief executive officer of property investor Overseas Union Enterprise attended the church and also hold regular faith-healing sessions at their home.
Church Of Our Saviour
Other exco members were also familiar faces at the Church Of Our Saviour. They were Charlotte Wong, Irene Yee, Jenica Chua, Maureen Ong and Sally Ang.
Up to that point, the new AWARE leaders had refused to answer questions about whether they knew each other before sweeping the elections on 28 March 2009.
When contacted, the Church's senior pastor Derek Hong would not answer any questions about his church members or AWARE.
When asked if any of the new AWARE exco members attended his church, he replied, 'No comment.'
'Homosexual practice is contrary to God's Word. So we stand against that and the active and aggressive promotion of such behaviour,' it stated.
It believed homosexuals could change, and had an ex-gay programme to counsel and help those who wanted to give up 'homosexual thoughts, tendencies and practices'.
Old guard calls for extraordinary general meeting
A group of 160 AWARE veterans launched a counter-attack, calling for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) where they intended to table a vote of no confidence against the new committee. The 160 signatories made up about 30 per cent of AWARE's membership of more than 500 at the time.
In a statement issued on 14 April 2009, they expressed concern over the unusual nature of the 28 March 2009 annual general meeting.
Older members present were shocked when the newcomers contested and won almost all positions, beating more seasoned members by wide majorities. They were also unhappy about online speculation about the reasons why a group who joined AWARE only recently staged a leadership grab.
Those calling for an EGM also found it disturbing that Claire Nazar, who was elected president without a contest, resigned within days.
The new exco members had yet to make known publicly who they were, how they were connected, what prompted them to take over in the manner that they did, or their plans for the organisation.
Repeated attempts to reach exco members for comments had drawn a blank since the previous week.
Corinna Lim, then 44, a spokesman for the old guard and one of the 160 members calling for the EGM, said, 'It is necessary to have an EGM because we need an open discussion of what their agenda is. We've had a lot of calls from concerned members but we have had no communication from the new exco. We don’t know who these people are. We’ve not heard a word from them for the past two-and-a-half weeks. It didn’t help that people were speculating all kinds of things on the Internet. In fact, in times like these, the exco should come out to respond quickly. It is very bad if this continues. People will come up with their own ideas and it will be damaging for the integrity of the organisation.'
Responding to comments in TODAY by veteran journalist P N Balji that AWARE should live up to its spirit of “championing the need for choices in a pluralistic society” and so accept the new line-up, Lim said the EGM would precisely serve this purpose.
“It will be an opportunity for members to raise their concerns with the exco and also for the new exco to explain their values and vision of AWARE. If the general meeting is happy with their goals, we’ll go along. If not, we’ll put (the matter) to a vote,” she added.
Lim, a corporate counsel, explained that under the AWARE constitution, an EGM must be called if 10 per cent of the membership ask for one in writing. Given the rules, it could be held within a month. Members of the old guard asked that the notice to call the EGM be issued no later than 14 days from the date of the request. This was the first time that the society had called for one.
Braema Mathi, who was in the group calling for an EGM, said members needed to know more from the new exco. "This is not a case of forcing their hand,' she said. 'Members want to ask questions and the best way to do it is to have an open forum. We need to know where we are heading, and they have not been forthcoming with that so far."
The Straits Times contacted new exco members Irene Yee and Catherine Tan on 14 April 2009, but both said they did not know about the move to call for an EGM. They declined to take questions, saying a press release would be issued 'in the next few days' - which was what other new exco members said the week before.
One of those calling for the EGM was writer Ovidia Yu, who said of the new team, 'I would like them to say what their goals are. Will AWARE's ongoing projects be continued?'
Yu had joined AWARE seven years ago and was unhappy that the new members who contested the elections were not more upfront earlier about who they were and what their plans were.
'Why didn't they come and make themselves known to us first?' she asked. 'Did they form a group first and join AWARE after that? Or did they join one by one and then vote for each other? We want to know.'
AWARE’s new vice-president Charlotte Wong was tight-lipped when TODAY newspaper met her at the group’s office on 14 April 2009.
“None of us can answer your questions until the exco meets. We’re just following the rules. They are in the constitution,” said Wong. “We’ll be releasing a statement after we meet.”
However, a check with AWARE’s constitution turned up no such rule.
Josie Lau's letter to media
On 17 April 2009, Josie Lau sent the following letter to the media:
"I refer to the report, 'Unknowns knock out veterans at AWARE polls' (The Straits Times, April 10) and various letters and media articles that followed.
We are delighted in the renewed interest in the reinvigorated AWARE and its democratically elected Executive Committee.
There are a few important factors that warrant making, which will lend clarity to the nature of the electoral process which sparked such intense attention.
First, outgoing president Constance Singam nominated Claire Nazar as successor. Nazar nominated six out of 11 new exco members with the Old Guard's support.
Ten of 12 positions were openly contested. Old Guard Chew I-Jin's position was not contested. The entire meeting lasted 3-1/2 hours as some 20 candidates gave electoral speeches and fielded questions from the floor.
As Mrs Singam noted at the AGM's beginning, AWARE's recruitment drive had succeeded through its marketing efforts. From a high of 675 in 1998, ordinary membership plummeted to 253 in 2008. At last count, there are about 400 members, and membership continues to grow at an impressive rate.
The new exco members were eager to start work. However, there were repeated delays in convening the first exco meeting. Mrs Nazar kept re-scheduling the meeting.
The first meeting was held on April 7. On April 8, Mrs Nazar abruptly and unilaterally resigned by e-mail. This left us president-less. The AWARE constitution requires seven days' notice to call exco meetings. We acted swiftly and called the second exco meeting on April 15. Josie Lau was named new president unopposed. A press release was immediately issued.
As president, I am disappointed that before the second exco meeting on April 15, a requisition for an EOGM for the apparent purpose of replacing the elected exco was handed to AWARE on April 14. This contained 160 signatures. No more than five signatories were present at the March 28 AGM attended by 99 ordinary members and three associate members. Some 120 of the 160 signatories appear to have been recruited just after the AGM in time to swell support for the requisition.
In the face of intense media and cyber scrutiny, I must ask this question: Why have some people cast aspersions on our good intentions? Why are they so angry with us? We've only just begun.
We seek to improve the quality of life of women in Singapore. We are pro-women, pro-family and pro-Singapore. What is so objectionable about that? Does the old guard harbour an alternative agenda? If so, they should disclose their motives and objectives fully and honestly.
AWARE is a secular organisation. Its members come from different races, walks of life and hold different belief systems. Our commitment to advancing the cause of women unites us. As a democratic society, we cherish viewpoint diversity.
I have full confidence in my new exco team. We know many challenges lie ahead but this team is ready for the task.
Braema Mathi sacked as CEDAW committee chairman
On 18 April 2009, The Straits Times reported that the new exco had sacked Braema Mathi as chairman of AWARE's CEDAW committee via a terse e-mail two days before. There was not even a phone call, nor any reason or "thank you" given.
She was told she was no longer in charge effective from 28 March 2009, the date of AWARE's annual general meeting.
'Talk about being unceremoniously dumped,' said Braema. She been involved in preparing the CEDAW report since 2004. She had presented one report to the United Nations in 2007, and was in the midst of finishing a second with the help of more than 20 volunteers.
'I don't know what I have done wrong or am not doing right,' said Braema, who was then doing consultancy work for Unifem.
She was not the only one upset. Undergraduate Chen Siya, 22, who had volunteered on both past and present reports said: 'It's very disrespectful and it's not the right way of doing things.
'What they did is contrary to AWARE values of allowing people committed to advocacy to continue doing such work.'
Repeated attempts by The Straits Times to contact the new AWARE leadership for comment were unsuccessful.
Old guard's response to Josie Lau's letter
The old guard submitted the following rebuttal to The Straits Times Forum on 17 April 2009 in response to Josie Lau's letter:
"We are astonished that the new Exco is asking the 'old guard' to disclose our motives and objectives! Our motives and objectives have been fully visible for nearly 25 years in the policies and programmes that have been carried out by AWARE, and which we want to see continued.
It is the motives of the new Exco that have not been made clear. Our initial questions remain: What do you want to do in AWARE that is fundamentally different from what was already being done?
On Wednesday the new Exco released a statement saying they want to 'honour' the work of past AWARE members and intend to 'build' on the solid foundations laid by the founders.
This raises the question: If you think the work AWARE has done all these years is so good and you want to 'honour' and 'build' on it, why the need to muscle your way onto the Exco? Such a tactic suggests there may be a hidden agenda that may be contrary to the stance and ethos of AWARE.
Various developments since the AGM have only deepened our concerns about the motivations of the new Exco.
Braema Mathi, a past AWARE president, was informed in a curt e-mail on Thursday April 16 that her term of office as chair of the CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) sub-committee had ended on March 28, the day of the AGM. She was told to hand over all work in progress to the Exco on Friday April 17.
Braema headed the CEDAW sub-committee for five years and, with special training by the International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, presented AWARE's shadow CEDAW report at the United Nations two years ago. She has extensive experience of the CEDAW process and to dismiss her services midway during the writing of the current report seems counter-productive.
We noted with alarm DBS Bank's statements in the last two days about the professional conduct of the new AWARE president. It is highly unusual for a company to issue such media releases and in particular to make a statement such as this: 'We are disappointed that Josie knowingly disregarded DBS' staff code of conduct twice. Such an attitude is not one that DBS, or any other organisation, can condone in a leader.'
We were further alarmed by media reports that the new AWARE president led the marketing team in DBS's credit card campaign last year which supported the evangelical Christian organisation Focus on the Family. AWARE is a secular organisation that embraces diversity of race, age, religion, culture and sexuality. It must remain so."
Margaret Thomas' response
"STATEMENT 'SELECTIVE AND INACCURATE'
'My first response is that her statement is so selective and inaccurate. She said old guard Chew I-Jin's position was not contested. I-Jin was first nominated for vice-president (but she was challenged by a newcomer and lost). She has devoted 15 years to AWARE and often VPs go on to become presidents.
She was subsequently nominated for the minor post of Assistant Honorary Treasurer and that was uncontested.'
Former AWARE vice-president Margaret Thomas, 57"
Nancy Griffiths' response
"WHY IT WAS HEARTBREAKING
'Josie asks if the old guard harbours an alternative agenda and says we should disclose our motives and objectives fully and honestly.
'They should answer that themselves. I joined AWARE because I love it that these women worked so hard to propagate values of acceptance and all-inclusiveness, regardless of race, religion, sex or sexuality.
'I attended the AGM and it was heartbreaking when I stood up and asked if they understood the principles behind AWARE. They did not answer.
'And then I asked a very blunt question. I said: 'Do you accept homosexuality?' And Jenica Chua stood up and said categorically: 'No.'
'I was flabbergasted.'
Singapore permanent resident Nancy Griffiths, 56, a mother of two and an AWARE member since 2002"
Talking Point interviews new exco members
On 19 April 2009, Channel NewsAsia broadcast an episode of "Talking Point" in which AWARE president, Josie Lau, honorary treasurer Maureen Ong and TODAY newspaper's senior reporter Loh Chee Kong were interviewed by Debra Soon, Chief Editor of MediaCorp TV News, and Editorial Consultant and veteran journalist, P N Balji. During the programme, Lau questioned the intentions of AWARE veterans unhappy over the election outcome,:
New exco holds press conference
During the emotionally-charged press conference, the new exco said that AWARE had lost its focus.
Drama erupted even before the news conference started with the current Honorary Treasurer Chew I-Jin accusing the new guard of intentionally excluding her from their news conference - "I'm utterly disappointed and disgusted because I'm meant to do a presentation alongside you, Lois (Ng, Executive Committee member)," said Chew.
During the one-and-a-half hour event, the group introduced well-known corporate lawyer Dr Thio Su Mien, as their so-called "Feminist Mentor". The term was obviously contrived as an analogue of Minister Mentor, a post created in 2004 for Lee Kuan Yew after his retirement as Senior Minister, to reflect his largely advisory role. Thio was the Senior Executive Director of TSMP Law Corporation and mother of Nominated MP, Dr Thio Li Ann.
The new exco accused AWARE of becoming a single purpose organisation, overly concerned with promoting lesbianism. They repeatedly raised examples like how the old guard had backed a lesbian film screening in 2007 and organised a lesbian-friendly Mother's Day event in 2006. And they wanted to bring the association back to what they said was its original noble cause.
When contacted for comment, former AWARE president Margaret Thomas said those comments were ridiculous and not deserving of any comment. Dr Thio Su Mien also revealed that she had e-mailed several groups with her concerns about the direction the association was taking, which prompted reporters to ask if the takeover was orchestrated.
The new exco said none of them intended to step down, but revealed that taking up office had come with risks. Several members received death threats which had been reported to the police. "Each day, I fear for the physical safety of my children, my family. There's even a blog site detailing my children's names and which schools they go to," said Josie Lau. The team would go ahead with the EGM planned for 2 May 2009 and was looking for a new venue to accommodate its burgeoning membership. It stood at 880 at the time and was still growing.
Excerpts from press conference
"Feminist Mentor" Thio Su Mien urged takeover
Senior lawyer Thio Su Mien, then 71, revealed on 22 April 2009 that she became disturbed when she noticed what she felt was AWARE's promotion of lesbianism and homosexuality. She then began urging women she knew to join AWARE and reset its focus on women's issues. Like several of the new exco members, Thio attended the Church Of Our Saviour. She described herself as a "Feminist Mentor" to working women, and at the press conference, was pressed for her role in the leadership grab at the AWARE AGM.
Q: Dr Thio, why didn't you run for a position in the exco? You have such strong views about everything and you are speaking on their behalf.
Thio Su Mien: No, I'm speaking on my behalf.
Maureen Ong: I want to make a point clear. We are not puppets of Dr Thio. We are mature, thinking professional women. We joined AWARE to stand for a cause that we believe in.
Q: Sure, but I still don't understand why Dr Thio didn't run for an exco position, someone with her qualifications and background?
Lois Ng: Honestly, AWARE is too small an outfit for her. It's for newbies like us.
Q: But (was the leadership takeover) orchestrated, planned beforehand? Was she the organiser?
Josie Lau: I will place on record, no.
Thio Su Mien: No, no, it depends on what you mean by organiser. Actually it's kind of flattering, in a way...
What I did was that I put down, collected info, I sent to different people. So it's up to you. You want to join? You go and join. If you want me to help you, I will help you.
So I'm quite happy with that because you see, you suddenly discover that networking helps, that if there's a view we want, we network through the e-mail. And I certainly have come out from the Jurassic Age because I'm quite proficient with e-mail and it is an efficient way of educating people.
Q: Dr Thio, are you implying that you have thought of it for a long time, that you planned all this?
Thio Su Mien: No, no. No, no, I have better things to do than this, okay? I have to earn a living, I work and I do a lot of other things. But the idea came I think round about when (AWARE held an AGM and only 29 people attended). So I said, what's happening?
How Josie Lau joined AWARE
Josie Lau joined AWARE in January 2009 after her husband's aunt, Dr Thio Su Mien, suggested it. AWARE member Claire Nazar also asked her to join and help with AWARE's marketing. Asked why she joined AWARE, Lau said:
"I've been married to the (Thio) family for 20 years. We meet occasionally once or twice a year, during Christmas, Chinese New Year. And she (Dr Thio) has been nagging me for the last 15, 20 years: 'Are you doing something in the public, contributing back to the community? You have such a good life, everything, you're jet-setting all the time. When?' And I wasn't ready.
But now my kids are much older, I feel that it's time for me to contribute and when last year I personally was very, very taken aback by the (choice of the movie) Spider Lilies for AWARE's premiere gala, that set me thinking: What actually is AWARE doing?
I did not join AWARE thinking that there will definitely be a new exco. I just knew that I was joining AWARE and if I stood for election and got elected, this is the area where I think I can contribute."
Six of the women in AWARE's new exco attended the Church Of Our Saviour. They were asked if there was a 'church connection' in the power grab at AWARE. Maureen Ong replied:
"No, the answer is no. We all attend Church Of Our Saviour. We joined the church at various different times. I didn't know any of these people until I got on to the committee.
Yes, we all attend the church. And really I only know Su Mien because I was invited by one of the people who attended her Tanglin fellowship to attend a talk that was given by Su Mien. And that was when I first met her. But I don't move in her circles. I'm a working mother. I don't move in her circles.
And I don't call Su Mien up. I didn't even know her mobile phone or home number until we got onto this committee and really, because of all the problems we're having - the death threats and so on - we went to our mentor to ask if she could help us in what we're trying to achieve. And that was only after we were appointed.'
She added that although Dr Thio held regular fellowship meetings at her home, she did not attend them because she had her own church cell group, which did not include any of the women on the AWARE exco."
AWARE office locks changed, centre manager fired
While the press conference was going on at the Raffles Town Club, a separate drama unfolded at AWARE’s office in Dover Crescent.
The new exco had ordered the locks changed to a new card system because they said there were too many spare keys floating around. But when locksmiths got there earlier on that night, they were shooed away by an office caretaker. The locksmiths returned later to carry out the task.
At 9:50pm on 23 April 2009, Josie Lau and four exco members arrived. About a dozen AWARE members were waiting. The press was asked to leave the office, but raised voices could be heard from behind the closed doors.
Several police officers arrived and stayed for about half-an-hour. One policeman told TODAY newspaper that someone had called for assistance.
Member Corrina Lim told TODAY that issues raised at the meeting involved the new key card system and the firing of centre manager Schutz Lee. Lim added that when asked why Lee was being sacked, AWARE vice-president Charlotte Wong replied that the manager had not followed instructions. The meeting ended at 10:45pm.
Old guard holds press conference
The following day, on 24 April 2009, the AWARE old guard held a press conference of their own to clarify their stand:
Minister Vivian Balakrishnan comments on AWARE saga
During his visit to Nee Soon South on Sunday, 26 April 2009, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Vivian Balakrishnan, said on the sidelines that the government had no intention of intervening in the AWARE saga:
The problems facing AWARE were not a national one, so it was best for the organisation to settle them democratically and according to its constitution. But still, the minister felt that Singaporeans could learn some lessons from the saga.
The first was not to let a single issue hijack an organisation's agenda. Dr Balakrishnan said: "There will always be some issues where you cannot get everybody to agree. We need to be able to learn to live and let live, to agree to disagree, and to do so agreeably. But don't let these single issues polarise or divide us and become the be-all and end-all of your social activism or your organisation."
The minister also emphasised that it was important for all Singaporeans to remember and also remain sensitive to the fact that they were living in a multi-racial and multi-religious society. That was another lesson that must be learnt from the AWARE episode. So it was important for organisations to keep religion above the fray of petty politics.
Dr Balakrishnan added: "We want to protect and nurture the special place religion has in our society. We don't want our religious organisations to be compromised or be damaged by the hurly-burly of politicking which appears on the ground. It is not a good idea." He concluded that if organisations wanted to make meaningful change to Singapore society, they must ensure representation from all segments which constitute the group. He explained there were many more challenges facing Singapore and women. It would be good to focus on them and not get distracted.
Separately, Law Minister K Shanmugam also opined that it was for the members of AWARE to sort out their problems. He said the Societies Act clearly spelt out how associations should conduct their affairs and the association's constitution also regulated arrangements between members. He added: "The rules are all clear and one assumes that they will act according to the law and to their own internal constitution. I think it's premature to comment on what we might or might not do. We don't really get involved in this. It is for the members to sort it out."
"We are AWARE" campaign video
On 28 April 2008, AWARE uploaded a campaign video entitled, "One Cause For All Women" to their newly created YouTube channel named "We are AWARE". It summarised the history and role of the organisation and urged women to sign up for and vote at the upcoming EGM on 2 May 2009:
An interview with ex-AWARE president, Dana Lam, was also published the same day. Lam described her experiences at the organisation and how they helped her grow as a person:
MOE contacts Thio Su Mien regarding allegations about AWARE's sexuality education programme
The AWARE saga had stretched out over the past weeks and Dr Thio's views were reported widely. She had been quoted as saying that in AWARE's sexuality programme, homosexuality was now regarded as a neutral word and not a negative one. As such, the Ministry of Education was obliged to respond:
Reply to Recent Comments and Claims About AWARE’s Sexuality Education Programme in Schools
1. We refer to recent claims and comments about AWARE’s sexuality education programme in schools.
2. Sexuality education conducted in MOE schools is premised on the importance of the family and respect for the values and beliefs of the different ethnic and religious communities on sexuality issues. The aim is to help students make responsible values-based choices on matters involving sexuality.
3. Core programmes are delivered by teachers but schools do collaborate with other agencies in delivering additional modules. However, in doing so, schools must ensure that any programmes run by external agencies are secular and sensitive to the multi-religious make-up of our society. Parents can choose to opt their children out of these programmes.
4. Last year, 11 secondary schools engaged AWARE to run workshops for their students. The number of students involved in each school ranged from about 20 to 100, and each workshop lasted 3 hours. The objectives of these workshops were to provide students with accurate information on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)/HIV, to help students understand the consequences of premarital sexual activity, and to equip students with skills such as decision-making and resisting negative peer pressure.
5. AWARE also conducted assembly talks, typically of 45-minute duration, for students in a few secondary schools. Some of the areas covered in the talks included body image, self-esteem, eating disorders, teenage pregnancies, sexual harassment and the role of women in today’s context.
6. The schools that engaged AWARE found that the content and messages of the sessions conducted were appropriate for their students and adhered to guidelines to respect the values of different religious groups. The schools did not receive any negative feedback from students who attended the workshops and talks or their parents.
7. In particular, MOE has also not received any complaint from parents or Dr Thio Su Mien, who was reported to have made specific claims about sexuality education in our schools. MOE has contacted Dr Thio Su Mien to seek clarifications and facts to substantiate her claims.
8. If parents and members of the public know of specific instances where guidelines have not been adhered to, they should report them directly to MOE to investigate. MOE recognises that sexuality education is sensitive. In conducting these programmes, the views of parents will be respected and values taught should not deviate from the social norms accepted by mainstream society in Singapore.
Sum Chee Wah (Ms)
Director, Education Programmes
Speaking to reporters at a visit to Yishun Town Secondary School, Senior Minister of State for Education S Iswaran said sexuality education was taught primarily by teachers, but schools had the flexibility to bring in other organisations.
"The guiding principle for this is very simple. It uses the family as the basic building block, as the basic foundation and helps the students make values-based decision on the whole issue of sexuality and in a manner that's sensitive to the multi-racial, multi-religious environment. "Clearly, there are different perspectives in our society so MOE takes a very deliberate and cautious approach," he said.
National Council of Churches of Singapore issues statement
The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) issued a statement on the night of Thursday, 30 April 2009 saying that it did not condone churches getting involved in the AWARE saga. It also did not approve of pulpits being used for the purpose and added that its member churches were not involved in the present events.
'In fact, our heads of churches have very recently reiterated to their clergy the standing instruction on the proper use of the pulpit,' it said.
The statement was issued by the then NCCS president, Reverend Dr John Chew, and its general secretary, Lim K. Tham.
The NCCS brings together churches from various Christian denominations, such as the Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Salvation Army and Syrian Orthodox churches, among others. Its leadership was rotated among the heads of the major groups.
The then NCCS president, Reverend Chew, was also Bishop of the Anglican Church in Singapore.
The Church Of Our Saviour's senior pastor, Derek Hong, reportedly urged, in a Sunday sermon, the women in his flock to 'be engaged' and support new AWARE president Josie Lau and 'her sisters' at the group.
In its statement on 30 April 2009, the NCCS said it had been following the recent events related to AWARE.
'We are concerned that religion has been dragged into the unfortunate situation. The matters related to AWARE should be solved by its own members,' it said.
The NCCS went on to say that its stance on the matter 'does not preclude individual Christians, like all their fellow citizens, from contributing in matters of social concern and well-being'.
'Nor does it preclude churches from being involved in public square discussions within the rules of engagement in the multi-religious society that Singapore is,' it added.
The NCCS also noted that on various occasions in the past, it had participated responsibly when called upon to give its opinions or when there was a need to add its voice.
It did so most recently on the issue of reimbursement for organ donations.
'We believe that we can engage together in our common spaces in a spirit of mutual respect so that we can contribute positively to the well-being of our nation,' it added.
'In this particular situation, we should all step back and give AWARE space to settle its own matters,' it said.
Meanwhile, a number of lay Christians have also voiced concern that the saga may have been giving their religion a bad name.
In blogs and forums, a number of Christian netizens also said that religion had no role in secular organisations.
University lecturer Gwee Li Sui wrote an article that had since been reproduced on many websites.
In his piece "Christians Against AWARE Takeover", Dr Gwee, an assistant professor of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore, said Christians like him had been shocked, angered, and saddened by the takeover and felt that their faith has been hijacked and their views ignored.
He said the new team, although well-meaning Christians, had no right to infiltrate 'a secular organisation in order to be in a position to dictate their own values in its daily running'.
'Just as we do not force the Christian faith down someone's throat against his or her will, we should not take over a non-religious organisation for the single purpose of making others unlike us behave as we believe.'
Many other bloggers expressed the same sentiment.
In her blog Of Kids And Education, Monica Lim, who ran a communications consultancy, said: 'Here's what Josie Lau and company have done - spout moral superiority, seize control using surprise tactics, spread propaganda, claim martyrdom.'
She added: 'I do not want my children learning that as Christians, they have the right to impose their beliefs on others via underhanded tactics.'
Cheryl Tay, 21, who attended Cornerstone Community Church, said the behaviour of some of AWARE's new exco members 'just perpetuates the misconception that Christianity is right-wing, and intolerant of other people's beliefs'.
Pastor Derek Hong expresses regret for actions
In response to the NCSS' statement, Pastor Derek Hong of the Church Of Our Saviour said the following day that he regretted using the pulpit to mobilise support for one camp in the ongoing dispute over the leadership of AWARE.
'I regret that this matter has caused concern and unhappiness. My actions on the pulpit have aroused some tension in this saga. I now stand corrected,' he said in a statement on the night of 1 May 2009. He also said he would be more sensitive to similar situations in future.
Pastor Hong's church was in the diocese of NCCS president, Archbishop Dr John Chew, who headed the Anglican church in Singapore.
Hong said he agreed with Dr Chew that the pulpit should not have been used in the AWARE saga.
In a Sunday sermon, Pastor Hong had urged the women in his flock to 'be engaged' and support new AWARE president Josie and 'her sisters' at the group.
He had said: 'It's not a crusade against the people but there's a line that God has drawn for us, and we don't want our nation crossing that line.'
In an earlier statement on Thursday, 30 April 2009, Pastor Hong denied that his church was behind the move to take over AWARE. He also said the church would not allow its pulpit 'to be used to intentionally teach anything that would arouse social tensions, divisions and unrest'.
That statement also reiterated his church's stand against homosexuality.
Deputy PM Wong Kan Seng's comments
In a related development on the night of 1 May 2009, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said:
'I welcome the statement by Dr John Chew, president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS). In our compact multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, racial and religious harmony underpins our stability. One of the key rules of engagement, therefore, is the need for tolerance and restraint by all groups.
'This is the only practical way, for all groups, regardless of their size or material influence, to enjoy maximum space to pursue their different faiths in peace.
'I thank the NCCS for its statement which soberly reminds us of this reality. It makes clear the council's responsible stand.
'It will help prevent any misunderstanding that the churches are backing one side in the AWARE dispute, or that this is a dispute between Christians and other Singaporeans.'
The statement 'will help prevent any misunderstanding that the churches are backing one side in the AWARE dispute, or that this is a dispute between Christians and other Singaporeans', Wong added.
Other religious leaders support NCCS statement
The Venerable Sik Kwang Sheng, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said he backed Dr Chew's stand that 'religious groups as institutions should not get involved in civil society groups, and the pulpit should not be used to further socio-political causes'.
'The AWARE incident serves as a reminder to all Singaporeans that cultivating open-mindedness towards others' views and beliefs is significant in fostering social harmony and cohesiveness,' he added.
Said Ling Kin Huat, vice-chairman of the Taoist Federation: 'Racial and religious harmony is our foremost concern, and we support Dr Chew's stand that religion should not be dragged into this matter.'
Veteran mosque leader Rahmat Sulaiman agreed, saying: 'Religion should not be brought into the matters of secular civil society organisations like AWARE. If this dispute goes on, our social fabric will be affected.'
Extraordinary general meeting at Suntec City
The extraordinary general meeting (EGM) was billed as the big showdown, but there was a fear that the face-off on Saturday, 2 May 2009 between the opposing factions of AWARE could well turn out to be a big letdown instead.
Long-time members AWARE had called for the EGM hoping to table a vote of no confidence in the new exco. But it was not certain that the meeting would even get to discussing that.
On the night of 1 May 2009, the new leadership had issued a cryptic response when asked if the EGM would deal with the no-confidence vote: '(The) EGM is convened to debate and vote on the proposed constitutional amendments to give voting rights to associate members, namely men, expatriate women and minors who need parental consent to join AWARE.'
Asked to clarify, exco member Lois Ng said that other matters would also be discussed.
The biggest bone of contention for the old guard and their supporters was the agenda. Although they wanted the meeting to specifically move a vote of no confidence, Item No. 3 on the agenda merely stated that the requisition to hold an EGM would be discussed.
The first item was confirmation of the minutes of the previous month's annual general meeting, and the second, matters arising.
Thomas said: 'We do not know what will be discussed under matters arising. The meeting is only three hours and we do not know how long this is going to take.'
She said that she and other long-time members such as lawyer Corinna Lim and businesswoman Nancy Griffiths had written to the exco either to seek clarification or to add items to the agenda but received no reply or were told that their requests were not acceptable.
Lim said they had wanted the agenda to state plainly that there was a motion of no confidence in the exco, that the exco should be removed and that a replacement exco should be elected.
Under AWARE's Constitution, the exco had to send out a revised agenda with new inclusions requested by members seven days before the EGM. So far, AWARE members said they had not received any revised agenda.
Online, observers have begun asking if the new team would resort to delaying tactics or exploit loopholes in the group's Constitution to stay in power.
Low Peng Leng, who had been an AWARE member for three years, said: 'It would be unfortunate if they did. This has been too long drawn and we really need a resolution.'
Meanwhile, intense lobbying by both sides had resulted in a surge in membership in AWARE. From about 300 members a month before, membership had crossed the 1,000 mark.
Many wondered how many were expected to turn up on the day of the EGM, would there be sufficient time to register those who came from noon until the meeting started at 2pm and what security measures had been put in place.
Attempts by The Straits Times to get the new team to answer those questions and address other issues were unsuccessful.
Asked if the old guard was optimistic about how the meeting would turn out, Thomas said: 'We have to remain positive. We are here to reclaim AWARE and the values it stands for all women.'
While both camps prepared for a showdown at the EGM, they advised supporters to stay calm and respect others.
Auxiliary police were hired for security measures, said AWARE spokeswoman and exco member Lois Ng, who advised members who felt unwell not to turn up, in light of the influenza A situation.
Reports on AWARE's membership at the time of the EGM placed it at about 1,800. The exhibition hall at Suntec City could accommodate 2,200 people.
"The main issue in the EGM is to debate and vote on the proposed constitutional amendments raised by the previous exco," said Ng. "Members will also get a chance to cast a vote of confidence for the new exco."
For the old guard, the agenda was "clear and simple", said founding member Margaret Thomas.
It is to discuss and put to members "a vote of no-confidence in the new executive committee", and if the vote prevails, to dissolve the exco and hold another election.
Massive queue of two opposing camps
In a scene reminiscent of the recent Bangkok protests, the new guard volunteers came wearing red shirts with the words 'Pro woman, pro family, pro Singapore' emblazoned on the back of their shirts, while the old guard volunteers wore white shirts with the words 'We are AWARE' and handed out packages with badges and pamphlet explaining the vote of no confidence against the new committee.
Several old guard members who turned up at 9am were told by event organisers to leave the voting area as it was 'neutral ground'. The women in red shirts, however, appeared to have free access to the venue.
At 10:45am, Schutz Lee, then 42, AWARE's recently sacked centre manager, arrived and tried to enter the area but was pushed back by the 'red shirt' volunteers and told to leave. They said the instructions came from the organisers. A man from the events management company told the old guard members to clear off or else he would call security.
When AWARE's ex-President Constance Singam arrived, along with former Assistant Honorary Treasury Chew I-Jin, the old guard supporters hugged and greeted her warmly.
At around 11am, Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong and his wife showed up. Siew had been an associate member of AWARE since October 2008. He said he supported the old guard. When he tried to enter the fourth floor where the EGM was to be held, Siew was barred from entering by 'red shirt' volunteers.
Yap Ching Wi, from the old guard camp, told reporters that the event organisers were pushing back the registration time to 12:30pm, instead of 12 noon, and were trying to disperse the old guard volunteers gathered outside.
Registration eventually started at 12:15pm, and as of 12:50pm, the queue had already snaked from the fourth floor to the third floor of the convention centre. The male members, who are accredited as associate members, sat separately from the women members as they are not allowed to vote.
Hedwig Anuar, a former AWARE President, told The Straits Times, 'AWARE is supposed to be secular, but it looks like religion has crept in.' But she said that 'overall the crowd is fantastic'.
Police officers were deployed outside the meeting venue.
New exco heckled during EGM
The atmosphere at the EGM, held in a function hall on the 4th floor of the Suntec City Convention Centre, was highly charged.
At 2:30pm, Josie Lau was greeted by boos and jeers when she stood up to make her opening remarks. Before she began her presidential address, she raised the already boiling temperature a notch higher when she asked Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong to move to the associate members' section which was for men. Siew, an associate member of AWARE since October 2008 and an ardent supporter of the old guard, refused to budge. He and his wife showed up at 11am and were barred from entering the meeting hall earlier by the new guard volunteers.
Lau was interrupted repeatedly during her speech by the audience, differentiated by the old guard members in white T-shirts and new guard supporters in red shirts. She had to ask the security guards to control the unruly members and send them out of the meeting hall.
At 2:56pm, Lau's legal counsel, Gregory Vijayendran of law firm Rajah & Tann, asked for the microphones to be left switched on so that members from both groups could speak. The old guard supporters cheered. Before that, when old guard members tried to speak, the mikes were not switched on. All photographers were then asked to leave as some used distracting flash photography. All those jeering were also told to exit.
At 3:04pm, Sally Ang from the new exco shouted angrily at the jeering audience, "Shut up and sit down!". The crowd booed and insisted that she be escorted out. Lau intervened and apologised for Ang's outburst but Ang was not subdued. She turned on the booing members again and admonished the crowd sternly to let Lau continue speaking. This incident later sparked a frenzy in the printing of T-shirts emblazoned with the quote, "Shut up and sit down!". Several old guard supporters were to wear it two weeks later at the inaugural Pink Dot at Hong Lim Park on Saturday, 16 May 2009.
At 3:13pm, Lau introduced her new exco members' profiles to boos from the crowd.
At 3:25pm, the exco skipped to items 3 and 4 on the agenda. Legal counsel Gregory Vijayendran said, "Whilst a vote of no confidence does not mean the new exco has to step down, they should consider doing so."
At 3:30pm, voters were briefed on the voting procedure. Only ordinary members was entitled to vote and each could cast one vote. Men, who were associate members, were not allowed to vote.
At 3:42pm, a new member recited part of the Singapore pledge, stressing "justice and equality", and pointed out that the old guard had not been treated equally. The crowd was exuberant and cheered as she attributed the increase in membership to the old guard. It then became chaotic as the supporters of the old guard and new exco both shouted at the mike.
At 3:43pm, popular actress Irene Ang took to the mike. She said, "I'm a Christian and I love God as much as you do. But I don't agree with what the new exco is doing."
At 3:47pm, the crowd chanted, "Where were you?" after Constance Singam asked the new exco where they were for the past 24 years. Lau requested the old guard supporters for the right to reply.
At 4pm, several new members stepped up to express their displeasure at the new exco. "You have not shown the grace of God at all", one said.
At 4:02pm, "Feminist Mentor" Thio Su Mien took the mike and asked the audience to "show respect to your elders". To bolster her claim as "Feminist Mentor", she held up a book published by AWARE in 2007 and declared that she was "charmed" to be mentioned "on page 73".
At 4:10pm, Siew Kum Hong asked for their team of scrutineers to monitor the vote counting process. The new exco's legal counsel agreed. Votes were then cast.
At 4:28pm, the votes were counted. In the meantime, the new exco discussed proposed amendments to AWARE's Constitution.
At 4:46pm, a 10-minute break was called. The discussion on the proposed Constitutional amendments was adjourned for a while.
At 5:06pm, in her right to reply, Josie Lau said that former AWARE president Constance Singam was asked to step out of a recent meeting after the 28 March 2009 AGM as sensitive matters were discussed. Lau also said that Schutz Lee, AWARE's ex-centre manager, was fired for 'insurbordination'.
At 5:21pm, the old guard supporters questioned the new exco about the money spent on booking the location for the EGM. The cost amounted to more than $20,000.
At 5:27pm, Chew I-Jin revealed that she stepped down as assistant treasurer because of a lack of transparency, as she was not given the information on costs incurred for the EGM and security.
At 5.32pm, an associate member stepped up to speak. She said Constance Singam reminded him of his deceased mother. To acknowledge the compliment, the three-time former AWARE president gave him a motherly smile.
At 5:52pm, a new member asked the exco if helping all women included helping lesbians. Would AWARE be less or more gay-supportive? She said that she was a devout Christian and sent her kids to attend AWARE's programmes. Lau replied that she would stand up for lesbians who were discriminated against.
At 5:59pm, Maureen Ong said in response to a member that the new exco had spent about $90,000 in the one month that it had been in office.
At 6:38pm, a sex education trainer from AWARE's comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programme said that materials which were supposed to be privy only to trainers were posted on AWARE's website. She said homosexuality took up only 1.5 minutes of the three-hour lesson, compared to 30 minutes for abstinence from sex.
New exco quits after vote of no confidence passed
At 8:10pm, a vote of no confidence on the new exco was passed, almost six hours after the EGM started. It was achieved with a majority of 1414 votes to 761, a ratio of about 2 to 1. Auditing firm Deloitte was tasked to count the votes at the meeting. The assembly then called for the mass resignation of the new exco.
At 8:15pm, AWARE's legal counsel Gregory Vijayendran said that the new exco was legally allowed to stay in office even though the vote of no confidence had been passed.
A break was called for the new exco to consider if they wanted to resign.
By 8:43pm, the audience was still waiting for Josie Lau and her team to come back on stage to respond as to whether they would resign or not, following the vote of no confidence vote.
At 8:47pm, former AWARE president Braema Mathi said, "I declare by their conduct they have resigned." The new exco had not made an appearance since the vote count was announced.
At 8:51pm, the event organiser said that Josie Lau and her committee members would be coming back shortly. The old guard demanded that they return by 8:50pm or the assembly would pass a motion to remove the new exco.
At 8:59pm, the old guard proposed a motion to remove the new exco. This was passed with two objections. The assembly then proceeded to elect a new exco - position for position.
At 9:05pm, former AWARE president Dana Lam was nominated the new President, Chew I Jin the vice-president, Yap Chang Wi the honorary secretary, Corrina Lim the assistant honorary secretary, Tan Joo Hymn the honorary treasurer, and Lim Xiao Yun the assistant treasurer.
At 9:14pm, Josie Lau strode onstage to state, "We have decided to graciously step down. We wish AWARE all the best."
Maureen Ong, who had been the honorary treasurer announced, "We need not step down, but we considered it and came to the conclusion that for the sake of AWARE, we would step down."
Lau, who had been AWARE president for less than two months said she hoped the organisation would return to its original roots in accordance to its constitution and continue to contribute to the advancement of women.
Interview with new AWARE president Dana Lam
Ex-new exco interviewed after loss
At a post-EGM news conference, Josie Lau responded to criticisms raised over the S$90,000 spent in the past month under her watch. Out of this amount, S$23,000 went into renting the exhibition halls at the Suntec convention centre for the meeting. She said, "I am sure we are very above board in those expenditures, given the circumstances surrounding events in the last few days. We had to spend what was spent."
Going forward, Charlotte Wong Hock Soon who stepped down as vice-president said she would be happy to contribute to AWARE in the area of education if invited to do so by the newly elected exco. Wong was a former sociology lecturer at the National University of Singapore.
Newly elected exco to amend Constitution
Dana Lam announced that future candidates seeking office on AWARE's exco may have to be volunteers with the women's group for at least year before they are eligible to do so. Lam said this was one of several more stringent criteria in the Constitutional amendments her exco would be looking into. This was to prevent another leadership grab similar to the one that happened on 28 March 2009.
Lam said that the most immediate tasks were to reclaim ownership of AWARE's Dover Crescent premises, including removing the CCTVs put in place by the new guard and to revive the work of the subcommittees which had stalled as a result of the saga. "The biggest challenge is to restore confidence within AWARE itself and the people outside. We will have to do a lot of work to reassure our supporters, members and staff that things are just not going to be the same, that we are moving forward," Lam said.
The new exco, hailed by Lam for its diversity of races and religions, saw the return of several of the old guard to the helm, but half of the 12-women line-up were new faces, including fresh graduate Joanna D'Cruz, doctorate student Mathia Lee and new media practitioner Hafizah Osman.
Meanwhile, the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) said it was pleased to note that AWARE had reached a resolution in a democratic manner. In a statement, President of SCWO, Dr Ann Tan said SCWO would like to underscore once again the need for civil societies to function as and remain as secular organisations so that all would stand to benefit from their good work. And that it trusted that AWARE would fulfil the mandate that they had been given to carry on with their work. SCWO looked forward to working with AWARE to achieve their common goals for the well being of the women of Singapore.
Talking Point interviews Dana Lam & Braema Mathi
One day after the victory of the old guard at the AWARE EGM, on 3 May 2009, new president Dana Lam and former president Braema Mathi were interviewed on an episode of Channel NewsAsia's Talking Point,:
Reinstated old guard resumes office, makes changes
Even before setting a meeting date, the old guard AWARE executive committee voted back into power set out its priorities. Foremost was how to manage its then-swollen base of around 3,000 members, many of whom joined only in the days leading up to the EGM. “There’s so much more we can do now because we have so many more people ... we will look at how to extend the use of new media and engage younger people,” AWARE's new president, Dana Lam, said on Sunday, 3 May 2009. There was “a heavy responsibility now” to keep the new members interested.
Exco member Margaret Thomas disclosed that managing the membership was now the “biggest challenge” for AWARE. “We have to get in touch and find out more their interests,” said Thomas an AWARE founder member. What the Exco would not be doing, though, was to change the direction of the 24-year-old advocacy group.
“I don’t expect us to be in great hurry to go in new directions. There are very good programmes in place”, revealed Lam. “(These) will carry on.”
Different views would be taken on board, but they would have to be taken into context, added Thomas. “If we do something that the majority of people feel is wrong, we will consider what is wrong and needs to be changed. But just because someone barks, it does not mean that you change your path.”
An immediate task was to arrange for a handover and retrieve official documents from the previous team, as well as restore confidence with AWARE’s sponsors and programme users. “One of the first things might be to contact our subcommittees chairs and restore them in their position,” said Lam. On the S$90,000 supposedly spent by the previous Exco, Lam said: “It’s a little too early for us to comment on (talk of a law suit). We have to go into the office and look at what has actually been going on before we make a decision.”
Correcting certain impressions of AWARE brought on by the saga was another priority. For one of the six new faces on the 12-woman committee, Hafizah Osman, content development manager of Mocca.com, the task ahead was to “get back on track” and “ensure that the passion and commitment (at the EGM) ... are captured and harnessed for AWARE”. The leadership coup had made the 39-year-old mother of two young children “sit up” and take on an active role. With women from different races and religions on the new committee, she is “confident” that AWARE “will be able to hear the different voices in society”.
As for criticism that AWARE has not been organised, Lam said this was inaccurate. “We don’t have enough volunteers, we may be a little slack in the administration. It has always been difficult to get busy people to give us the time, and advocacy is not a very popular kind of thing to do.” The loopholes in the constitution that enabled the takeover on 28 March 2009 were already in the process of being thought out. “We were not fast enough to put it into fact. What are the lessons learnt? I think we have to be more vigilant ... Of course, we are now going to look at that and change the locks on our back doors.”
Petition to MOE regarding sexuality education
On 4 May 2009, a Christian woman named Pauline circulated the following letter to her community, urging it to sign a petition to the Ministry of Education to remove the "homosexual slant" that had crept in the Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) program conducted in schools:
AWARE EGM - An Eyewitness Account & Afterthoughts
I attended the EGM yesterday and would like to share my own impressions versus what was reported in the media today. I was there because of my concern with regard to certain teachings of homosexuality that has insidiously crept into our school system by way of the CSE (Comprehensive Sexual Education) Program. I am glad I went because it convinced me that we cannot leave it to others to watch over our beliefs and values. We need to be personally engaged. It enabled me to witness that the pro-lesbian/pro-gay lobby is indeed vocal, articulate, united and well-organized. If we are not watchful, acceptance of homosexuality will be the norm. It is already at our door step.
The CSE (initiated by the previous old guard committee) was brought to light by a group of Christian women who were elected as new exco members headed by Josie Lau. Contents of the CSE syllabus include:
- homosexuality is "perfectly normal.. people are born like this its simply the way you are"
- anal sex "can be healthy or neutral if practiced with consent and with a condom"
- pre-marital sex "is really neutral"
Unfortunately, the press made Josie & her team to be a group of power-grabbing women who were out to grab control of AWARE to promote their own religious agenda. It was this perception that was the main focus that led to feelings of anger & hostility at the EGM, even by fellow Christians who sided with the old guard. Sadly, it was the old guard and media that painted their agenda as religious rather than concern about wrong values being promoted to our children.
Do not believe everything you read in the newspapers or forums.
The following were very evident at the EGM:
1) I got to witness first hand, the unity of the homosexuals/gays in attendance, the hooliganism bordering on lawlessness that prevailed throughout the EGM even as these people very forcefully and in a very unruly manner, sought to tear down the new exco at every turn, giving them no chance to speak or even talk about their plans. There was no respect for order but instead, chaos prevailed.
2) The new exco was booed, harassed, prevented from speaking, drowned out and blocked at every turn....simply because the other side was more boisterous, vocal, articulate, at times even physical (grabbing microphones, etc) and certainly well organized and orchestrated. Many in the audience were simply intimidated by the actions of the old guard's supporters. Old guard's supporters dominated the microphone, at times, forcibly snatching from others who wanted to speak. It was indeed shocking!
Yet, Josie Lau and the exco reflected calm & grace, though one of them did "lose" it initially, which the media highlighted while failing to mention the antics of the old guard's supporters. It was really shameful and saddening. The old guard talked of being a civil society but the meeting was anything but civil. They asked for respect but showed none at all. Josie and her team should be commended for the way they conducted themselves throughout, with dignity and decorum.
3) The EGM was effectively hijacked by the old guard and supporters and I am personally glad that Josie and her team have decided to step down. They have served their purpose and they really paid a high personal price; they and their families. The focus should now be on the latest exco. I am thankful, at least, that Josie and her team have brought the homosexual agenda of the old guard to the surface and it is now up to each of us to continue the watch, if we really care.
Though I could not stay till the very end, it was very obvious to me that the Josie and her team consisted of women who were willing to rise up and be counted and, as a result, persecuted for their convictions as stated in Ephesians 5:8-11 :
" ...but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light...and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them"
The homosexual slant in the CSE program has been exposed and we parents hope the MOE will re-examine the content of the program with a fine tooth comb. If you are concerned that such programs have been brought into our schools, and taught to our children, you can join in a petition to the MOE at
At the same time, precious lessons have been learnt by us especially those who were present at the EGM. We need to rise up to our responsibilities and calling if we are to be effective Marketplace Ministers. It is not one of confrontation but one of blessing and redemption; yet at the same time not surrendering the grounds that God has given to us.
The petition entitled, "Parents' appeal to Education Minister", set itself a target of 10,000 signatures and ended up gathering 7,964. It read:
Dear parents and friends, Thank you very much for your support for this online petition. After deleting those signatures which were dubious, duplicate or incomplete, we were able to gather about 7,200 of your signatures to submit to the Minister for Education. You may also see some selected comments below. We are glad MOE has already addressed some of our concerns. We hope that we can continue to engage MOE in a positive way that will enable both parents and the ministry to guide our children together, with values consistent with those that we hold dear. Once again, thank you for your support, and let us continue to do our part in loving our children and giving the best in wholesome education! Yours gratefully, KF Khoo Here are some comments you have given so far: “Studies in this area in the United States and Australia have shown that value-neutral or value-free sexual education has NO impact on reduction of rates of sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancies; rather these have increased DESPITE such education programs. What has worked are programs which include behavioural therapy components and religion-based programs such as TEEN-STAR in the U.S., Chile and Australia. Value-free sexual education often harms the child. Non age-appropriate sex education ‘sexualises’ the child before he or she is ready to receive such information and leads to promiscuity and increase sexual activity.” “While I respect adult homosexuals for the decisions that they have made with regards to their sexual practices, I agree that such condoning of homosexual practices like anal sex ought to out of our education curriculum. …. As for schools having such sexuality talks, I would appreciate if the parent-teacher committees meet to discuss the appropriate contents to be taught to the students.” “The program, as it is proposed, will do nothing but promote sexual promiscuity and confusion about gender identity. This is not the sort of environment that children need to be exposed to. I believe that this program belittles the true human condition and is insensitive to the religious beliefs of the greater society. It must be stopped and removed from our school system.” “As a family life educator, I am with the concerns of the parents on the issue. Teaching and helping our young to understand their own sexuality in the light of self-care, self-love and self-confidence should be the main thrust of any good sexuality programme NOT social norm standards or practices. Indeed all parents should have a part to play in such a programme.” “Maybe the ministry can sanction a requirement for sexuality talks to be conducted only after a parents information or briefing session is conducted so parents are aware of what they can expect. Whatever is taught in any case, should be followed up by parents at home.” “I found the following from Wikipedia : Anal sex exposes participants to two principal dangers: infections, due to the high number of infectious microorganisms not found elsewhere on the body, and physical damage to the anus and the rectum due to their vulnerability. …. I sincerely hope our children are not mis-educated.” “A sexuality program should be set within a framework of sound moral values to empower our children to make the right decisions, to know why it is important to say "no", to be motivated to remain pure, to exercise self-control, to show respect to others and to self. Even as we do not condemn smokers, we do not teach them it is okay to smoke. Our children are bombarded with enough temptations and what they really need is proper guidance.”
Many of us parents are concerned about recent press reports about ‘comprehensive sexuality education’ (CSE) programmes conducted in our schools. We hope that our children will get the best value-added education in our home we call Singapore. We also hope that we will all be able to work with our schools in the wholesome education of our children, not least of all in the area of sexuality education.
MOE reviews schools' sexuality education programmes
On Wednesday, 6 May 2009, Channel NewsAsia reported that the Ministry of Education was reviewing schools' comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programmes in the light of issues raised by the expelled exco during the AWARE saga and certain segments of the public:
The Ministry had decided to suspend the engagement of external vendors running sexuality programmes in schools until it had completed the vetting of their content. The move came after it investigated feedback received on the school sexuality education programme conducted AWARE, as well as other lesson materials not by AWARE.
For the past few years, schools had been allowed to engage external vendors to supplement their sexuality education programmes. MOE said it had reviewed schools' internal processes for selecting and monitoring vendors, and found that they could be improved. It said it would put in place more stringent processes to ensure that training materials and programmes delivered in schools were in line with MOE's framework on sexuality education. It added that its framework reflected the mainstream values of Singapore society, where the social norm consisted of the married heterosexual family unit. It emphasised that schools did not promote alternative lifestyles to students.
Regarding AWARE's sexuality education programme, the ministry found some aspects of it positive, while other parts did not conform to its guidelines. MOE cited as positive - examples such as role-play practice for students to say "no" to sex. However, it found other instances - such as some suggested responses in the instructor guide - explicit and inappropriate, as they conveyed messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest the approval of pre-marital sex.
In response, AWARE said it was "disappointed", as instructors were trained to use language appropriate to their audience. It had also offered on Tuesday, 5 May 2009 to meet with ministry officials, but had yet to receive a response. "I hope it doesn't mean they are going to discontinue using such comprehensive programmes as ours. And I hope it doesn't mean they are going to bring sexual education back a couple of centuries," said Dana Lam, AWARE's president.
The ministry was also reviewing ways to provide parents with more information about sexuality education taught in schools. It added, however, that parents were ultimately responsible for inculcating values in their children, and that MOE's sexuality education programme aimed to complement parents' role in helping students make informed, responsible and values-based decisions regarding sexuality.
Separately, MOE also said it had investigated feedback on materials used in junior colleges' General Paper (GP) lessons which carried information on alternative lifestyles, not provided by AWARE. The ministry said GP lessons were meant to promote critical thinking and discussion on contemporary issues. It added that the teachers had used these materials to initiate discussion on family structures and not to promote alternative lifestyles. It would, however, remind school leaders and teachers to exercise greater professional discretion in guiding their students when such topics were discussed, and that they should adhere to social norms and values of mainstream society.
Attendance boost at Pink Dot
The breakout of the AWARE saga gave rise to an immense amount of indignation amongst the LGBT, human rights and feminist communities in Singapore, as well as interested observers from the general public, towards the underhanded modus operandi and anti-LGBT agenda of the disgraced exco.
It galvanised people to attend the first Pink Dot held on Saturday, 16 May 2009 at Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park to make a stand against the encroachment of noninclusive religious ideology into Singapore's secular spaces, in addition to supporting the "Freedom to Love".
This boosted the attendance at the event to some 2,500, far surpassing the organisers' modest expectations. Some participants even wore T-shirts emblazoned with the quote, "Shut up and sit down!", in mockery of how the ousted exco attempted to quieten the audience during AWARE's EGM at Suntec City. Many of the feminists who attended the EGM especially made the effort to attend the inaugural Pink Dot.
AWARE's new directions
On Monday, 6 July 2009, AWARE's reinstated leadership revealed their refocused emphasis for the organisation:
It proposed extensive changes to its constitution and had submitted them to the Registrar of Societies. Amongst the changes was that only those with at least 2 years' membership could run for elections. The board also had the right to sack anyone who acted against AWARE's objectives. Assistant honorary secretary, Corinna Lim, said: "We have already put in progress a set of constitutional changes which are actually quite extensive. They would actually prevent a situation like 2nd of May from happening again."
AWARE members had asked Josie Lau's ousted committee to return the money used to organise the EGM. However, new AWARE president, Dana Lam, said that she would not try to recover the costs which amounted to more than S$99,000. The decision came after an internal review was conducted to find out how much was spent by the former committee and what they had spent it on.
At a media briefing on 6 July 2009, Lam explained that the organisation's accounts were still in the black. More than 2,700 people had signed up as new members to vote at the meeting during the saga and AWARE collected more than S$98,700 in membership fees. While this was not enough to offset the total cost of the meeting, Lam said the association also managed to secure donations from various companies.
Lam explained: "One of the first things we did was to write to them and say if they can consider donating some money back to AWARE because this is a large sum. So as of now, what we've managed to do is we have managed to recover at least S$8,000 from the total spent." Lam added that the review team found that the former committee led by Ms Josie Lau did not adhere fully to established practices. But she acknowledged that the team lacked experience and was under tremendous pressure at that time.
Lam elaborated on AWARE's decision. "So I think that as we're able to recover some of the money anyway, (from) the generosity of the donors, we don't see a need to pursue this further. But more importantly, we want to be free from this, so that we can carry on with our work." AWARE needed S$400,000 every year to operate. It hoped to raise S$200,000 by the year's end. What it had in the kitty right then should last till the end of the year.
On AWARE's sexuality education courses for students, Lam said the association had plans to tweak its current programme to suit the needs of parents and teachers, after an internal review. The programme, in its current form, had sparked a nationwide debate on the kinds of sex education programmes being taught in schools. Many parents were unhappy with the content and the explicitness of the material found in AWARE's Comprehensive Sexual Education: Basic Instructor Guide. This had prompted the Ministry of Education to suspend such programmes run by external groups. Lam said the programme has been put on hold after the ban. She announced that there were plans to re-package the programme, but AWARE would take its time to do so.
Report on review of AWARE's CSE programme
Conclusions of report
AWARE’s CSE programme was developed to help with a glaring social need. The feedback from the students who went through the programme was that it was informative and useful. Asked what they had learned from the workshop, most responded with statements about what they learnt such as these:
- ‘How to say no to my boyfriend if he wants to have sex’
- ‘The consequences of having sex’
- ‘How to protect ourselves’
- ‘We have the right to say no and think twice’
- ‘What a healthy relationship is’.
The stance taken by AWARE was that it is better to try to give young people the facts about sex and contraception rather than try to dictate that they not have sex. It should be noted, however, that in the segment of the workshop dealing with pregnancy, it was emphasised that not having sex, or abstinence, was the surest way to avoid pregnancy. The CSE programme also sought to get young people to recognise and accept the reality of a diversity of sexual identities. This is, admittedly, a liberal stance and it is perhaps not surprising that it came under attack from a fundamentalist group.
In reviewing the material used for the CSE programme, and in particular the Basic Instructor's Guide (IG), the review team noted that when the references to homosexuality and anal sex were seen in context, they were less startling.
For example, the statement ‘Homosexuality is perfectly normal’ appears in the IG in this passage:
Homosexual – people have different preferences for their partners. Homosexuality is perfectly normal. Just like heterosexuality, it is simply the way you are. Homosexuals also form meaningful relationships, and face the same emotional issues that heterosexuals do. The Singapore law does not recognise homosexuality and deems homosexual sexual activities as unnatural.
However they felt that, with hindsight, had several passages and lines been better phrased there might have been less ground for the fundamentalist group to make their allegations.
For example, instead of saying ‘homosexuality is perfectly normal’, the IG could have said ‘To homosexuals, homosexuality is as normal as heterosexuality is to heterosexuals.’
And the statement in the IG that ‘Anal sex can be healthy or neutral if practised with consent and a condom’ could have been phrased this way:
Anal sex – This is a neutral activity so long as it is done between consenting individuals and a condom is used. If no condom is used, it can become a negative activity as anal sex can result in tiny tears and cuts in the anus. And if it is an act forced upon someone, it is clearly a negative activity.
It bears repeating that these statements were only found in the IG, and meant to be used as a reference point for trainers. These statements did not appear in the handouts given to students.
The review team noted that the final version of the IG had been edited and tightened from an original version which was drafted with more elaborate statements and definitions. The editing was done because it was felt that the IG needed to be more succinct.
The review team noted that the editing should have been done with greater care to ensure that there was no loss of meaning or clarity as to the various aspects of complex and sensitive matters. Those who went through the training sessions were well aware of what was meant by a statement such as ‘homosexuality is perfectly normal’ but to an outsider, particularly when the line is taken out of context, it can come across as a startling statement.
Recommendations of report
- AWARE staff and volunteers should, in future, exercise greater care when writing and editing such material. Audit teams including content experts should scrutinise this material more closely and be ready to challenge statements and positions, and insist that the necessary changes be made.
- The work put into developing the CSE should not go to waste. There continues to be an urgent need for young people, and especially girls, to have facts about sex and guidance about handling relationships. The CSE programme was developed precisely for this.
- It is unlikely that the Ministry of Education will, in the foreseeable future, welcome AWARE’s CSE programme in its schools. It is clear, however, that while some parents disapprove of the approach taken by AWARE, there are those who very much approve of it. Similarly there are teachers who would like to be able to offer the programme to their students.
AWARE should thus consider other ways of making the programme available to those who welcome the approach taken. One option would be to run the CSE programme outside of the schools. Another would be to put a version of the programme online.
In 2011, a 208-page book entitled "The AWARE Saga: Civil Society and Public Morality in Singapore" was published by NUS Press (Paperback; dimensions: 229mm x 152mm; ISBN: 978-9971-69-551-4).
In it, academics and public intellectuals examined the AWARE saga within the context of Singapore's civil society, considering the political and historical background and how the issues it raised related to contemporary societal trends. In addition to documenting the milestone event for Singapore's civil society, the authors offered provocative interpretations that would interest a broad range of readers.
9th Anniversary of AWARE saga
Thomas reflected on the pivotal moment and highlighted three lessons one could learn from the saga: the importance of standing up and speaking out, women's solidarity and maintaining secularism in Singapore.
Where Were You? AWARE Saga 10th Anniversary Party
On Saturday, 4 May 2019, AWARE threw a party to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the climactic Extraordinary General Meeting at Suntec Convention Centre on 2 May 2009, attended by 3,000 people who lent their voices and votes to a remarkable display of civic engagement and passion.
The event, advertised on Facebook, lasted from 2:30pm to 10:30pm and was held at the AWARE headquarters at 5 Dover Crescent, #01-22, Singapore 130005. Tickets were free and avaiable at www.eventbrite.sg All AWARE members as well as several guests were invited.
A decade on, the organisation wanted to celebrate and relive that incredible day with its members. The party was an opportunity to celebrate the courage the community had always shown - its refusal to shut up and sit down, and its willingness to stand up and speak out for its beliefs. It also looked back at how far it had come since then: how AWARE was able to turn crisis into opportunity, and continue its central role in Singapore civil society. The event offered food, drink, new commemorative merchandise for sale and flowers.
Attendees had to register for the party with the caveat that by registering, they were consenting to appear in AWARE's official audio-video recording of the event. If participants would like to request not to be photographed or filmed, they were required to notify AWARE ahead of time.
To ensure enough time for them to check the guest list against their member list, RSVPs were closed at 11.59pm, 2 May 2019. Partygoers were urged to sign up by then.
If individuals wished to attend but were not members, they were required to sign up at http://www.aware.org.sg/register/membership/. If one's membership had expired, one could renew it by logging on to their Membership Portal (https://awaresg.z2systems.com/np/clients/awaresg/login.jsp) with one's username and password. One could contact Desiree at email@example.com or 6779 7137 if one had any questions about membership.
Questions regarding the event were to be emailed to Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The organisation looked forward to seeing its members at the special event and promised it would be a lot of fun.
1. AWARE training room: 2.30-10.30pm: EGM screening
Starting at 2.30pm, a private screening of the full 8-hour video of the EGM was run. Viewers were free to walk in and out as they chose. Assurances were given that there would be minimal queueing.
EGM viewing guide - selected highlights:
"Shut up and sit down" – 3.05pm
Constance Singam, "Where were you?" – 3.45pm
Feminist Mentor - 4.05pm
Floor speaker: Meera Jane – 6.00pm
Floor speaker: Farid Hamid – 7.15pm
Voting results - 8.05pm
New Guard step down - 9.15pm
2. AWARE lobby: 4-5pm: Reception and address by selected speakers
The attendees stepped away from the screening for an hour for some remarks by special guests, some of whom were front and centre at the EGM. These included former AWARE President Constance Singam, Vivienne Wee, a founding member of AWARE and its second Research and Advocacy Director, lawyer and former NMP Siew Kum Hong who advised the old guard on legal issues during the AWARE saga, and sociologist Teo You Yenn. This was the main event, hosted by AWARE's Executive Director Corinna Lim. Members of the audience were later also encouraged to take centrestage and share their unique experiences of the AWARE saga.
SAGA: Podcast Premiere and Listening Party
In December 2020, as a finale to the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the AWARE saga, the organisation kicked off a limited-series podcast entitled, SAGA with a virtual listen-along session to the first two episodes followed by a conversation with the podcast's creators. It was announced on a Facebook event page:. The premiere and launch, hosted by theatre actress Pam Oei, took place over Zoom at 7pm on Wednesday, 9 December 2020. Participants were requested to register in advance at this link:
SAGA was hosted and narrated by acclaimed journalist Bharati Jagdish. It aimed to:
- tell the never-before-heard stories of key players in this gripping national event
- examine the impact of the AWARE saga which has rippled outwards for the past decade
- ask all-important questions about democracy, fairness and bridging societal divides
Listeners could tune in from Wednesday, 9 December 2020 onwards on:
Message from creators of SAGA
"A MESSAGE FROM THE CREATORS OF SAGA
The celebration of AWARE’s 35th birthday in 2020 called for a reflection on its transformation from modest volunteer group to flourishing NGO and civil society leader in Singapore. In pinpointing the moment that marked the close of the former and the beginning of the latter, there was never any doubt: It was the AWARE Saga. That existential threat (of AWARE being taken over by a group of religious conservatives) pushed its leaders to renew their commitment to feminist advocacy, and strengthen the organisation’s capacity and infrastructure.
We wanted to document the complete history of the Saga for a few reasons. For one, because the lived experience of it was so much richer than what most people saw in the news. And it is important for AWARE to contextualise its ongoing fight for gender equality, to remind itself why the fight matters.
But beyond AWARE, the story of the Saga is important for Singapore - whose citizens pledge tolerance, diversity and democracy in the abstract, but rarely get a chance to test those principles on a national stage. This narrative deals with subject matter that is traditionally considered sensitive in the Singapore context, such as religion and LGBTQ rights. We know that these topics will likely elicit strong feelings in listeners, and have endeavoured to deal with them honestly and with the sensitivity that they deserve. We also believe that our society is sufficiently mature to engage in respectful conversations on these subjects. There are profound lessons to be learnt from the AWARE Saga, about how to disagree constructively and bridge entrenched divides. We hope that new generations carry these lessons forward in the perennial quest to live together in harmony and dignity.
Over the course of this project, we interviewed 50 people. Some of them were experts who provided nuanced, dispassionate insights on the broader socio-political context underlying the events. But most of them were people who had directly participated in the Saga. Living through the Saga was as traumatic as it was invigorating—these interviewees made that clear to us. But while others would have chosen to sweep their trauma under a rug, they recognised the value in putting their experiences on the record. With Bharati Jagdish at the mic, asking unsparingly tough questions, interviewees revisited their triumphs and their mistakes. They relived extremes of emotion: blinding fury, soaring relief, the bitterness of betrayal. We thank them for their honesty and trust.
There are, of course, perspectives that are missing from the assembly of voices — people who declined our invitations to participate. While we regret that we could not interview them, wherever possible we have tried to feature their own words: recordings of meetings, interviews, press conferences, letters, emails and so on. We hope that, in doing so, we have made reasonable effort to present their point of view accurately.
To end: What a privilege it has been to memorialise this remarkable event — and in a medium as intimate and alive as a podcast. May the Saga inspire you as much as it inspires us."
"March 2009. When 100 strangers arrive at a run-of-the-mill meeting for Singapore gender-equality group AWARE, long-time members sense that something is wrong. Who are the mysterious women wresting control of this respected volunteer organisation? And what disturbing secret unites them? What happens next becomes the stuff of national legend: starting with an astonishing coup and culminating in an extraordinary declaration of equality and justice. Welcome to the AWARE Saga. Saga is a limited-series podcast hosted by acclaimed former journalist Bharati Jagdish. First 4 episodes premiere 9 Dec."
Episode One: Strangers
Listen to Episode One on:
"28 March 2009: Singapore’s leading gender-equality group, AWARE, is holding its Annual General Meeting, with the organisation’s members voting to elect a new executive committee. However, when dozens of mysterious new members arrive - tight-lipped women who rebuff the welcoming gestures of AWARE veterans - what should be a run-of-the-mill gathering reveals itself to be anything but."
(Please note: This podcast touches upon some complex topics. The creators have endeavoured to reach all key players for their comments, and present a balanced and factual account. We ask that each episode be taken in its full context by listeners.)
Episode Two: The Coup
Listen to Episode Two on:
"AWARE was born in a flash of feminist frustration and solidarity. During the association’s first 24 years, its iconic leaders made their name by campaigning against sexist laws and societal norms. Yet by 2009, activity had slowed, with many members burnt out and distracted. Perhaps this fallow period presented an opportunity for another demographic to get in the door - one with a distinctly different take on AWARE’s mission."
"The newcomers running for election at AWARE unsettle older members with their strangely hollow stump speeches. Who could have predicted this 24 years prior, when the organisation was founded? AWARE’s iconic early leaders made their names campaigning against sexist laws and societal norms. Yet in 2009, activity is slow, with many members burnt out and distracted. And what seemed like a rejuvenating injection of new blood is looking more and more like a coup."
Episode Three: The Letters
Listen to Episode Three on:
"As AWARE’s exco election comes to a disquieting end, an impromptu Google search on the names of new members gives veteran member Joo Hymn chills. The results provide an important clue about a controversial ideology that many of the newcomers seem to share—an ideology that reared its head in national discourse only a few years prior, during a pivotal battle for LGBT rights."
SAGA Episode Four Sneak Preview with Preetipls
On Tuesday, 22 December 2020 at 8pm, AWARE hosted a free one-hour online sneak preview of SAGA Episode Four on Instagram with social media celebrity comedienne and activist Preetipls. The event was advertised on Facebook:.
Episode Four: Old Guard, New Guard
Listen to Episode Four on:
"With their organisation in the hands of strangers, AWARE's Old Guard scramble to figure out how to react - and who to trust."
"Who are the women on AWARE’s new executive committee? Is its new president — Connie’s own chosen heir — part of a deeper conspiracy to take over the association? In the aftermath of the Annual General Meeting, long-time AWARE members — the “Old Guard” — struggle to make sense of what happened. And as the media begin to dig into the story, the Old Guard face a momentous decision that will seriously test their resolve."
Episode Five: Saviour
Listen to Episode Five on:
"Word gets out that most of AWARE’s new exco attend the same church — one known for its conservative views on sexuality and gender. But what does that have to do with AWARE? Perhaps some answers are to be found in the history of Christianity in Singapore... and how the religion has existed, both peacefully and contentiously, within the multi-cultural state."
Episode Six: Informants
Listen to Episode Six on:
"Cracks start to show in the New Guard’s relationships with the staff at the AWARE Centre. Between the exco’s obvious unfamiliarity with the organisation, actions that compromise the well-being of clients, and strange fascination with certain programmes, tensions rise quickly. Meanwhile, the Old Guard rally the troops for a requisition. Will they find enough allies to see it through?"
Episode Seven: Showdown
Listen to Episode Seven on:
"AWARE’s new president, Josie, launches a publicity campaign to defend the New Guard against mounting criticism, boycotts and even threats, from a public hungry for answers about the group’s intentions. Will her PR attempts work? Then, things come to a head at the AWARE Centre with a dramatic face-off between both sides."
Episode Eight: Feminist Mentor
Listen to Episode Eight on:
"Surprise! At an astounding press conference, the New Guard reveal their true leader: the woman who conceived of and organised the AWARE takeover. Together with this mentor, the group finally explain the series of events that put AWARE on their radar — the supposedly scandalous practices of the organisation’s former leadership which, they say, must be stopped at all costs."
Episode Nine: B-WARE
Listen to Episode Nine on:
"Both sides ready themselves for battle with AWARE’s Extraordinary General Meeting in sight. Harnessing a huge team of volunteers, the Old Guard prepare to give their all, though the emotional toll of the saga is catching up to them. At the 11th hour, they face a logistical twist from the New Guard. Will a ballsy stratagem be enough to save them? Or will the Singapore government prove an unlikely ally?"
"Extraordinary": SAGA Zoom Listen Party
On Wednesday, 6 January 2021 at 8pm, an online event called "Extraordinary": SAGA Zoom Listen Party was hosted by Margaret Thomas, Corinna Lim and Jasmine Ng to listen together to SAGA podcast episodes 10 and 11 covering the 2 May 2009 Extraordinary General Meeting at Suntec City.
Interested parties were requested to sign up at this link:
A Zoom link was sent out to their email addresses before the listen party. It was stressed that the audience need not have already listened to the earlier episodes yet, to join the hosts at the event.
Episode Ten: Extraordinary, Part One
Listen to Episode Ten on:
"The day of reckoning arrives: the Extraordinary General Meeting to determine the fate of AWARE. With more than 3,000 attendees in the Suntec City Exhibition Hall, the energy and excitement are off the charts. After the New Guard make their case for the last time, the vote of no confidence in the current exco takes place. Which side will prevail?"
Episode Eleven: Extraordinary, Part Two
Listen to Episode Eleven on:
"A young woman who believes in the right to choose. A sitcom actress risking her public persona for the sake of her principles. A former police officer who wishes his daughters could be there, too. Midway through the AWARE EGM, members new and old stand up and speak out about the takeover, LGBT rights, feminism and more. Together, they make one of the most powerful assertions of Singaporean democracy in recent memory."
Episode Twelve: The Winners
Listen to Episode Twelve on:
"More than a decade since the events of the AWARE Saga, their Lasting impact has rippled outwards in so many ways. But while the results of the fateful 2009 EGM were decisive, is it clear which side truly won? With the emergence of new movements and new slogans, new technologies and new generations, are the ideological fault lines in Singapore society continuing to widen? And if so, how can we heal them?"
- The AWARE Saga: Civil Society and Public Morality in Singapore
- Complete list of videos of AWARE old guard's press conference (24 April 2009)
- Complete list of videos of queue for AWARE AGM (2 May 2009)
- Complete list of videos of AWARE EGM (2 May 2009)
- Complete list of videos of Dana Lam interview (2 May 2009)
- Complete list of videos of ousted AWARE exco press conference (2 May 2009)
- Wong Kim Hoh, The Straits Times, "Unknowns knock out veterans at AWARE polls", 10 April 2009,,.
- PN Balji, TODAY, "Ladies, have you forgotten your narrative?", 13 April 2009.
- Ho Chi Sam, Straits Times forum letter, "Keen to know what AWARE's plans are now", 14 April 2009.
- Esther Ng, TODAY, "Old guard calls for meeting", 15 April 2009.
- Tan Dawn Wei, Wong Kim Hoh & Yen Feng, The Straits Times, "DBS exec is AWARE's new head", 16 April 2009.
- Alicia Wong, TODAY, "New guard consolidates", 16 April 2009.
- Benson Ang, The New Paper, "New woman in the hot seat", 17 April 2009.
- Conrad Raj, TODAY, "What’s good for the goose ...", 17 April 2009.
- Channel News Asia, "DBS "reviewing" employee's appointment as AWARE president", 17 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, The Straits Times, "DBS tells why it rebuked Josie Lau", 17 April 2009.
- Cheryl Lim & Pearl Forss, Channel News Asia, "AWARE president questions intentions of veterans unhappy over election outcome", 17 April 2009.
- Tan Dawn Wei, The Straits Times, "AWARE's power couple", 18 April 2009.
- Tan Dawn Wei, The Straits Times, "Sociable, chatty and a lover of good food", 18 April 2009.
- Tan Dawn Wei & Jamie Ee, The Straits Times, "Some attend the same church", 18 April 2009.
- Josie Lau, The Straits Times, "New guard's response", 18 April 2009.
- Robin Chan, The Straits Times, "Bank's public criticism of a senior officer sparks debate", 18 April 2009.
- The Straits Times, "Sacked by a terse e-mail", 18 April 2009.
- The Straits Times, "Old guard's response", 18 April 2009.
- TODAY, "Why she quit", 18 April 2009.
- Tan Dawn Wei & Jamie Ee, The Straits Times, "Some attend the same church", 18 April 2009.
- The Straits Times, "Old guard's response", 18 April 2009.
- Tan Dawn Wei, The Straits Times, "Quiet, devoted to religious activities", 18 April 2009.
- Benson Ang, The New Paper, "'What did she do to deserve position?'", 19 April 2009.
- Channel News Asia, "AWARE president says will not back out despite pressure", 19 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "AWARE chief wants to heal rift with upset members", The Straits Times, 20 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "Constance Singam quits as AWARE adviser ", The Sunday Times, 19 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "Claire Nazar: Why I quit as AWARE president", The Sunday Times, 19 April 2009,.
- Nur Dianah Suhaimi, "Old guard supporters rallying the troops", The Sunday Times, 19 April 2009.
- Loh Chee Kong, "AWARE: More than a numbers game", TODAY, 20 April 2009.
- Loh Chee Kong, "AWARE: The new exco speaks", TODAY, 20 April 2009.
- Loh Chee Kong, "AWARE president says will not step down despite pressure", TODAY, 20 April 2009.
- Benson Ang, "Fight Over AWARE Leadership", The New Paper, 20 April 2009.
- Ho Lian-yi, "Fight Over AWARE Leadership: Both parties marshalling members for EOGM", The New Paper, 20 April 2009.
- Azfar, "The AWARE Saga and Political ‘Capture’: Lessons for Civil Society", Kent Ridge Common, 20 April 2009.
- Pearl Forss, "AWARE old guard says debate is healthy", Channel News Asia, 21 April 2009.
- Hedy Khoo, "Few straight answers in AWARE interview", The New Paper, 21 April 2009.
- "Save AWARE" petition, 23 April 2009.
- Alexandra Serrenti, "An Ethicist speaks out on AWARE", 23 April 2009.
- Channel News Asia, "New exco wants to bring AWARE back to its "original cause"", 23 April 2009.
- Alex Au, "Pirates ahoy! Gay netizens and the AWARE hijacking", Fridae, 23 April 2009.
- Ong Dailin, "Locks changed, AWARE centre manager fired", TODAY, 24 April 2009.
- Zul Othman, "An ugly turn of events", TODAY, 24 April 2009.
- Zul Othman, "Membership shoots up", TODAY, 24 April 2009.
- Cheryl Lim, "New exco wants to bring AWARE back to its "original cause"", 24 April 2009.
- Zakir Hussain, "Lawyer's key role in AWARE coup", The Straits Times, 24 April 2009.
- Sandra Davie, "New exco members tell of death threats", 24 April 2009,.
- Derrick Ho, "Leadership change at AWARE", The Straits Times, 24 April 2009.
- Transcript of new AWARE leadership's press conference, 24 April 2009.
- Ravi Govindan, "Govt should ensure AWARE stays secular", Straits Times forum, 24 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "Old guard members counter allegations of a pro-gay stance", 25 April 2009.
- "AWARE's old guard defends its activities", TODAY, 25 April 2009.
- Chua Mui Hoong, "AWARE saga: A new militancy emerges", The Straits Times, 25 April 2009.
- Debbie Yong, "Centre manager sacked for insubordination, says vice-president", 25 April 2009.
- Nur Dianah Suhaimi, "Way power was seized is criticised", The Straits Times, 25 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "'Too diversified or too focused? Which is it?'", The Straits Times, 25 April 2009.
- Robin Chan & Jamie Ee, "AWARE rift: Govt leaders call for tolerance", The Straits Times, 25 April 2009.
- "Dr Thio who?", The New Paper, 25 April 2009.
- S Ramesh, Cheryl Lim, "Govt won't interfere in AWARE saga", Channel NewsAsia, 26 April 2009.
- Veena Bharwani, "'We can't pretend it doesn't exist'", The New Paper, 26 April 2009.
- Ng Tze Yong, "It was like a cocktail party", The New Paper, 26 April 2009.
- Liew Hanqing, "'Girls told how to say no to sex'", The New Paper, 26 April 2009.
- "He's our 'legal adviser'", The New Paper, 26 April 2009.
- Ng Tze Yong, "Her steely front cracked for an instant", The New Paper, 26 April 2009.
- Li Xueying, "Minister's advice for Aware", The Straits Times, 26 April 2009.
- Jamie Ee Wen Wei, Nur Dianah Suhaimi and Debbie Yong, "SIX NON-PARTISAN OBSERVERS WEIGH IN ", The Sunday Times, 26 April 2009.
- "Nothing 'sneaky' about elections ", The Sunday Times, 26 April 2009.
- "Many unaware of Aware battle: Poll", The Sunday Times, 26 April 2009.
- Li Xueying, "Keep religion above 'petty politics', says Vivian", The Straits Times, 27 April 2009.
- Terence Lee and Deborah Choo, "Staff sent out email asking members to vote at Aware EOGM", The Online Citizen, 27 April 2009.
- Shree Ann Mathavan, "As infighting within women's group Aware continues, netizens ask if it's time for government intervention", The New Paper, 27 April 2009.
- TWC2's statement on the AWARE saga, 27 April 2009.
- Amanda Yong, "Our church is in the news, it's not what I wanted", The New Paper, 28 April 2009.
- Zhang Tingjun, "Dr Thio Su Mien asked to clarify claims on AWARE's programmes", Channel NewsAsia, 28 April 2009.
- Cheryl Lim, "AWARE's extraordinary meeting to be held at Singapore Expo", Channel NewsAsia, 28 April 2009.
- Constance Singam, "Restore reason, civility to debate", Straits Times forum, 28 April 2009.
- Josie Lau, "What being inclusive means", Straits Times forum, 28 April 2009.
- Ven. Dhammika, "The AWARE Saga - A Buddhist View", Dhamma Musings, Blogspot, 28 April 2009.
- Sum Chee Wah, "Reply to Recent Comments and Claims About AWARE’s Sexuality Education Programme in Schools", Ministry of Education, 28 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "EGM venue changed to Expo Hall 2", The Straits Times, 29 April 2009.
- Deeksha Vasundhra, "What the school programme teaches students", The Straits Times, 29 April 2009.
- Terence Chong, "Don’t pretend that Christian activism doesn’t exist here", TODAY, 29 April 2009.
- Esther Ng, "Police to Expo: Say no", TODAY, 30 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "Aware moves to Suntec after police veto Expo venue", The Straits Times, 30 April 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "EOGM moved to Suntec", The Straits Times, 30 April 2009.
- Dr Ann Tan Sian Ann, "Umbrella women's body hopes for peace", Straits Times forum, 30 April 2009.
- Saleemah Ismail, "Several projects with UN body", Straits Times forum, 30 April 2009.
- Anthony Yeo, "AWARE'S SEXUALITY EDUCATION PROGRAMME: Concerns addressed", Straits Times forum, 30 April 2009.
- Schutz Lee, "Termination had nothing to do with performance, says ex-employee", Straits Times forum, 30 April 2009.
- Dr John Hui, "Kudos to MOE, Aware's sexuality education programme needs more clarity", Straits Times forum, 30 April 2009.
- Chiang Meng Lee, "Sexuality education: Introduce basics to children first", Straits Times forum, 30 April 2009.
- S Ganesamoorthy, "Thanks, MOE, for sensitive handling of a delicate, vital concern", Straits Times forum, 30 April 2009.
- Lee Yuen Wai, "Describe what is being taught about homosexuality in programme", Straits Times forum, 30 April 2009.
- "Church responds on Aware connection", Asia One, 30 April 2009.
- Zakir Hussain and Wong Kim Hoh, "Churches: Don't get involved", The Straits Times, 30 April 2009.
- Zakir Hussain and Wong Kim Hoh, "Churches should stay out of Aware tussle", The Straits Times, 1 May 2009,.
- Nur Dianah Suhaimi, "Church against homosexuality as 'normal alternative lifestyle'", The Straits Times, 1 May 2009.
- Hoe Yeen Nie, "DPM Wong welcomes umbrella Christian body's stand on AWARE saga", Channel NewsAsia, 1 May 2009.
- Chua Mui Hoong, "Let's talk to teens about sex", The Straits Times, 1 May 2009.
- Alicia Wong, Lin Yanqin and Ester Ng, "Controversial content in AWARE's sex education programme sparks debate", TODAY, 1 May 2009.
- Siow Li Sen, "Now, let's talk about sex", Business Times, 1 May 2009.
- Alicia Wong, "Pastor apologises for misusing pulpit", Channel NewsAsia, 1 May 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "Three more exco members resign", The Straits Times, 1 May 2009.
- Ng Tze Yong, "Net fury over venue for Aware meeting", The Straits Times, 1 May 2009.
- Pearly Tan, "CONCERN OVER SEXUALITY PROGRAMME IN SCHOOLS: 1,300 sign online petition", Asia One, 2 May 2009.
- Pearly Tan, "Teachers told not to get involved in Aware", Asia One, 2 May 2009.
- Zakir Hussain, "Pastor regrets 'actions on pulpit'", The Straits Times, 2 May 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "Will face-off take off? No confidence vote not on EGM agenda", The Straits Times, 2 May 2009,.
- Alicia Wong, "AWARE membership at an all-time high on eve of EGM", Channel NewsAsia, 2 May 2009.
- Cheryl Lim, Tan Yew Guan, "Some 3,000 people turn up for AWARE EGM", Channel NewsAsia, 2 May 2009.
- Elizabeth Soh and Teo Wan Gek, "Aware showdown begins", The Straits Times, 2 May 2009.
- Elizabeth Soh and Teo Wan Gek, "LIVE: Aware showdown at Suntec", The Straits Times, 2 May 2009.
- Elizabeth Soh and Teo Wan Gek, "AWARE SHOWDOWN: Voting ends at Aware EGM", The Straits Times, 2 May 2009.
- "New Exco of AWARE given vote of no confidence", Channel NewsAsia, 2 May 2009.
- Kelvin Teo, "News commentary: AWARE’s Extraordinary Meeting", Kent Ridge Common, 2 May 2009.
- Letters to Straits Times forum by Azmeen Moiz, Dr Mandakini Arora, Grace Chua, Lim Li Koon, Yuen Kwong Chow and Veena Pereira, 2 May 2019.
- Alicia Wong, "Josie Lau's exco resigned "for the sake of AWARE"", Channel NewsAsia, 3 May 2009.
- Sandra Davie, "'Mentor' reacts to jibes", The Straits Times, 3 May 2009.
- Wong Kim Hoh, "New guard ousted", The Straits Times, 3 May 2009.
- Loh Chee Kong, Alicia Wong, "The Aware EGM: A blow-by-blow account", TODAY, 3 May 2009.
- Loh Chee Kong, "New Aware exco of fresh and old faces vows safeguards", TODAY, 3 May 2009.
- Pearl Forss, "AWARE's president says biggest challenge is to harness support of new members", Channel NewsAsia, 3 May 2009.
- "Alvinology goes to the AWARE EGM", Alvinology, 3 May 2009.
- Sumiko Tan, "Three weeks in hot seat", The Straits Times, 3 May 2009.
- Aaron Low, "Leaders back Archbishop", The Straits Times, 3 May 2009.
- Radha Basu, "The awareness to right a wrong", Singapore Enquirer, 3 May 2009.
- "The 'Aware Saga' has become the Christian debacle", Christian Post, 3 May 2009.
- "How to lose an EGM vote", TODAY, 4 May 2009.
- Ong Dai Lin, "AWARE old guard makes new blood a priority", TODAY, 4 May 2009.
- Benson Ang, "OLD GUARD SAY VOLUNTEERS HELPED THEM TO VICTORY", The New Paper, 5 May 2009.
- Felicia Wong, "Twitter sparks T-shirt", The Straits Times, 5 May 2009.
- Letters to The Straits Times forum by Nickole Li, Chee Li Min, Rev. Yap Kim Hao, Lee Swee Mei and Teo Boon Theng, 5 May 2009.
- Loh Chee Kong, "A Coming of Age of Civil Society", TODAY, 5 May 2009.
- Esther Ng, "AWARE debate still raging in cyberspace", TODAY, 5 May 2009.
- Diana Othman, "Aware sex guide suspended", The Straits Times, 6 May 2009.
- Pearl Forss and Ho Yeen Nie, "MOE suspends sexuality education programmes by external vendors", Channel NewsAsia, 6 May 2009.
- "MOE Statement on Sexuality Education Programme", 6 May 2009.
- STUMPBO, "Stand up and speak out", Life of Lopsided 8, 6 May 2009.
- Catherine Lim, "Fallout of the Aware saga: A letter to concerned parents", 6 May 2009.
- PN Balji, "The government’s strategic intervention in the Aware saga", The Online Citizen, 6 May 2009.
- Theresa Tan and Amelia Tan, "Aware sex guide suspended", The Straits Times, 7 May 2009.
- "Taken unawares: Liberals rally to take on the Christian right", The Economist, 7 May 2009.
- Sumiko Tan, "Let's talk about sex", The Sunday Times, 8 May 2009.
- Cheryl Lim, "MOE not making changes to core sexuality programme in schools", Channel NewsAsia, 8 May 2009.
- "John Lui shares his views on the Aware saga", The Straits Times blog, 8 May 2009.
- Alexandra Serrenti, "Suspension of Aware programme sends wrong message", Straits Times forum, 8 May 2009.
- Damien Chng and Kenneth Tham, "A Christian woman’s take on the Aware saga", The Online Citizen, 8 May 2009.
- Arul John, "Envelope of white powder meant for senior pastor", The New Paper, 8 May 2009.
- Radha Basu, "Mothers, talk to your kids about the birds and the bees", The Straits Times, 10 May 2009.
- Letters to TODAY for and against James Ray's "Homosexuality is not neutral" from Benjamin Lim, Tim Mou Hui, Margaret Tan Ai Hua and Teo Thiam Seng, and Chillsie Wong, 10 May 2009.
- Margaret Tan, "We want our child to grow up non-discriminative", Straits Times forum, 11 May 2009.
- Shuli Sudderuddin, "In the classroom", The Straits Times, 12 May 2009.
- "Sexuality 101", The Straits Times, 12 May 2009.
- "Govt stand on homosexuality clear", The Straits Times, 14 May 2009.
- "Q&A with DPM on Aware saga", The Straits Times, 14 May 2009.
- Dr Thio Su Mien, "Gay activists a key constituency of Aware", Straits Times forum, 17 May 2009.
- Tim Mou Hui, "Self-described feminist mentor's actions invited a reaction", Straits Times forum, 19 May 2009.
- Theresa Tan, "Changes to sex education programme:MOE tightens vetting", The Straits Times, 21 May 2009.
- Amelia Tan, "Changes to sex education programme: Why sex education is needed", The Straits Times, 21 May 2009.
- "What will change", TODAY, 22 May 2009.
- "Not until Aware regains trust: Education Minister", TODAY, 22 May 2009.
- Emilyn Yap, "MOE to vet all sex education providers", Business Times, 22 May 2009.
- Indulekshmi Rajeswari, "Supporting gay rights does not make one gay", Straits Times forum, 22 May 2009.
- Jamie Alicia Nonis, "Offensive to call people 'sexually challenged'", Straits TImes forum, 23 May 2009.
- Amelia Tan , Theresa Tan and Yeo Sam Jo, "2 'weak links' in sex ed", The Straits Times, 23 May 2009.
- Liaw Wy-Cin, "Materials to be online soon", The Straits Times, 24 May 2009.
- Tan Keng Soon, "'Sexually challenged' isn't an offensive term referring to gays", 25 May 2009.
- Lee Kai Yin, "Aware's response to MOE regrettable", Straits Times forum, 26 May 2009.
- Cecilia Ko, "Parents, please clue in", Straits Times forum, 26 May 2009.
- Loh Chee Kong, "‘A recipe for disharmony’", 27 May 2009.
- Jeremy Au-Yong, "Religion still has its place", The Straits Times, 27 May 2009.
- Laremy Lee, "Focus on tolerance and unity, not name-calling", Straits Times forum, 27 May 2009.
- Jeremy Au Yong, "‘Intolerance’ can bring a nation down", The Straits Times, 28 May 2009.
- "MP apologises for slip", The Straits Times, 28 May 2009.
- Kwok Kar Peng, "Celebrity SEX ED", The New Paper, 2 June 2009.
- Shree Ann Mathavan, "How would you talk to your kids about sex?", The New Paper, 3 June 2009.
- "We're sorry for 'trauma' but not for our programmes", The New Paper, 4 June 2009.
- "AWARE proposes changes to its constitution", Channel NewsAsia, 6 July 2009,.
- Kelvin Teo, "The divide between religious extremism and free speech", Kent Ridge Common, 7 September 2009.
- "AWARE Saga: Some Lessons", GeePeeland, Wordpress, 6 August 2011.
- Ingrid M Hoofd, "Making Sense of the AWARE Saga: The Aporetic Enactment of Feminist Responsibility in Singapore", Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific Issue 36, September 2014.
- Alan John, Facebook post, 28 September 2018.
- "Former ST editor highlights the importance of standing up for secularism in the face of religious pressure", Coconuts Singapore, 28 September 2018.
- Constance Singam, "Remembering the AWARE Saga", 29 April 2019.
- Ajay Nair, "The AWARE Saga: Ten Years Later, What’s Changed?", Yahoo! Lifestyle and Rice media, 1 May 2009,.
- Alan John, "In Singapore, gay community still faces uphill struggle", South China Morning Post, 2 May 2019.
- Yuen Sin, "Aware saga 10 years on: Scars and tensions remain", The Straits Times, 5 May 2019,.
This article was written by Roy Tan.