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Sayoni releases first, groundbreaking report into violence and discrimination facing lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer (LBTQ) persons in Singapore

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Advocacy

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SINGAPORE, 24 May 2019 - Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBTQ) rights group Sayoni has published a groundbreaking research study highlighting violence and discrimination against LBTQ women in Singapore, to be launched on 25 May.

Through a series of in-depth, face-to-face interviews with 40 participants, the qualitative study presents evidence of physical and emotional violence committed against LBTQ women in private and public spheres. Most participants did not report these incidents to the relevant authorities due to the fear of further stigma.

The first such systematic study on LBTQ women in Singapore, the book (entitled "Violence and Discrimination Against LBTQ Women in Singapore") sheds light on their lived realities as well as the invisibility of the problems faced, and recommends sensitive and responsive policy changes.

Some key findings from the book:

1. LBTQ women who came out or had their sexuality revealed experienced physical, psychological and sexual violence from the people closest to them - family members and intimate partners.

2. Both younger and older persons were vulnerable: Adults lived in fear of losing their jobs or homes if found out by homophobic employers or landlords, while younger people were in danger of losing financial support from their families. Younger people also experienced bullying in school if their gender presentation was not normative.

3. As purchasing and renting housing was challenging, some participants could not move out of their homes and were forced to live with abusive or risky family situations. Housing challenges for transgender individuals were pronounced.

4. LBTQ women had difficulty securing stable employment, particularly those who did not conform to gender stereotypes or did not pass as heterosexual. Transgender individuals were thus particularly vulnerable. Incidents of harassment and discrimination experienced by transgender individuals were not documented in company records. LBTQ employees in both the private and public sectors faced discrimination.

5. The societal stigma associated with sexuality further isolated LBTQ persons, impacting their mental health.

Despite these findings, incidents of violence and discrimination were not reported to the police, employers or other authorities for fear of further stigma. Individuals said that they blamed themselves and believed that reporting would not help them or change the situation.

Sayoni's co-founder Jean Chong said: "LBTQ persons' experiences of violence extend beyond the private sphere to the public domain in our streets and schools. Violence happens, whether exceptional or commonplace, and its effects on LBTQ adults and young people are devastating."

The study also observed ways in which LBTQ persons cope with their struggles, which largely comprised seeking help and support from friends and LBTQ social networks. Help from informal networks and friends could fail if those offering support were also dependants without resources. Employers were rarely supportive but were important sources of assistance when they were.

The research team proposes a series of measures to combat prevailing prejudices, assist victim-survivors and improve the social climate for LBTQ persons:

· Provide LBTQ-affirming sensitivity training for healthcare professionals and social workers

· Change housing, healthcare and education policies to recognise that LBTQ individuals are part of society

· Include information on sexual diversity and gender in school syllabuses and sexuality education

· Launch awareness-raising campaigns to educate the general population on LBTQ issues and sexual diversity

· Equalise censorship guidelines for heterosexual and homosexual content

The publication is the result of a qualitative study conducted by Sayoni, a feminist group that works to uphold equality and human rights protections for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women as well as transgender men. The group initiated this research as part of its advocacy for the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the Singapore government in 1995.

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At the launch event, members of the research team and expert panelist Jolene Tan discussed key findings and themes from the study, with an opening address from our keynote speaker Constance Singam, a veteran civil society activist. Sayoni also shared its policy recommendations and plans for advocacy based on the findings of this study.

As Ms Singam wrote in the book: "This is a call to action, one which I hope the authorities in particular will heed. Individually, we all have a role to play in bringing forward the day when LGBTQ persons, everywhere, are accepted and treated as equals. The time really has come."

 

Advocacy for UN Child Rights Convention: Reflections Part 1

Written by Tiffany on . Posted in Advocacy

Hello from Geneva! Some background and context as to why I am in Geneva right now: I recently worked on a report on pressing issues surrounding LGBTQ+ children and youths in Singapore with Sayoni as part of an additional submission to the United Nations Child Rights Committee (UNCRC) prior to their review of the Singapore state (which is happening 16th/17th May). I am currently representing both Sayoni and The Bi+ Collective SG, and will be attending the reviews on both days in Geneva. These are just some reflections from my experiences of the first two days in Geneva...


14th May, Tuesday / ILGA and Old Town

I got lost the moment I stepped out of the Geneva airport (I was careless and took the wrong bus because I was unsure as to which direction I was taking towards). While stranded in the middle of an empty one-way street with no Internet for a minute or two, in many ways I saw that as symbolic of how I felt - uncertain, anxious, filled with the not-knowing. At the same time, I knew that underlying layers of fear was a lot of excitement and zealousness as well.

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The first day in Geneva, I got the opportunity to visit the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) office and had the chance to have a short chat with Kseniya and Zhan. Kseniya is a senior officer in Women and UN Advocacy, while Zhan is a Gender Identity and Gender Expression Senior Programme Officer. Kseniya and Zhan were wonderful (and so friendly)! They offered me useful tips on how I could best approach the review session and discussed some strategies to help with the lobbying. For instance, cutting down on our prepared questions to pick only a few to pinpoint what the most important questions are, as well as who I could potentially approach amongst the committee members. They also spoke about how it'd be beneficial to think of something more "positive" the government had done for the LGBTQ+ community (like allowing some LGBTQ+ organisations to be registered officially) and use those examples to show how the State can and should do more and that all they need is a push from the UN. When they first asked me about what "positive" things the government had done for the LGBTQ+ community, my mind was almost empty, except for (unfortunately) Ong Ye Kung's voice saying that there's "no discimination" of LGBTQ+ folks in Singapore. Other than speaking about the review, we both mutually shared more about the LGBTQ+ culture in our various communities. Both Kseniya and Zhan were mortified when I mentioned a little about some LGBTQ+ youth experiences we had uncovered from our focus group discussions and my own experiences of working with queer youths (like teachers/schools checking for binders, or not allowing students to hug one another for fear of the "spread of lesbianism"). I left Zhan and Kseniya and took with me lots of helpful information, motivation and gratitude, but I also left behind some packets of chicken rice paste and peanut candy.

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I walked along Lake Geneva after, made friends with some ducks and swans, and tried my hardest to not be blown away by the strong winds. Before I knew it, I had made my way to the Old Town, and Geneva honestly has some of the most beautiful buildings ever! I spent most of my evening that day letting myself get lost in between alleyways, chancing upon cathedral after cathedral (each of them more stunning than the last) and feeling the endearingly uneven roads beneath the soles of my shoes.

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15th May, Wednesday / Broken chair, UN tour and Malta CRC Review

I woke up this morning with more uncertainty, anxiety and tired feet. I think a lot of my stress from this morning was mostly because I just didn't know how the review was structured and unsure how it was supposed to play out, so with encouragement from Ryan (who is the Regional Coordinator of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and also someone who is helping me a lot this trip - thanks Ryan!!) I decided I wanted to attend the Malta UN Child Rights Committee (CRC) Review session which took place at 3pm. I knew it would be somewhat a magical day, because the moment I stepped into the sun, there was a rainbow on the floor at the bus stop!


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Before that I went to the Palais Wilson (the place where the UN CRC reviews are held) to collect my pass for the review sessions, and I immediately felt more thrilled about the review on Thursday. It really must be the rainbow lanyard and big Sayoni badge I had close to my heart (literally), and maybe the fact that things just somehow feel more real when you have your face printed on a plastic card with a QR code on it (haha). I also decided to pay the Broken Chair a visit (Jean told me it's a must!) and went for a guided tour in the Palais des Nations (the UN office in Geneva).

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If you don't already know about the symbolism and history of the Broken Chair, here's a good place to start reading (https://www.hi-us.org/so_what_is_the_broken_chair). Notwithstanding the large crowds and countless people struggling to take selfies and photos without wanting stranger/s to unintentionally be part of the photo with them (an actual skill but also an impossibility), I stood there for a good five minutes (while trying not to be in anyone's photo, of course!) thinking about why and what I work so hard almost every day, and how very important this trip to Geneva is for not me, but all LGBTQ+ children and youths in Singapore. As someone who works with and tends to the concerns of some of the queer youths in Singapore (we have a group for those under-18s in The Bi+ Collective!), my heart breaks (and had broken) many times whenever these young kids come to me with narratives of discrimination, bullying, abuse, harassment and family violence. Many resonate with my own experiences growing up queer, and I often struggle with these narratives because there really is only that much I can do (most of it I can't do). This report that Sayoni (especially Mandy!) had led and I had helped work on really means a lot to some of these LGBTQ+ youths and children, it gave them a voice (which of course, we all know is non-existent in many spheres and spaces) and being able to try my best to help bring those voices to the UN CRC is almost surreal, yet at the same time, the most real? Whether or not the State is willing to address the extremely neglected and overlooked (but immensely serious) issues of LGBTQ+ children, the fact that this report exists and we were able to submit it to the UN CRC and how I am here in Geneva right now is a step forward in the discussion (even if it's just a tiny one!), and I see a little light at the end of a very very long and dark tunnel.

After doing a lot of intense thinking (as you can probably tell), I took the chance to tour the UN office in Geneva, and it was a pretty great experience! Here are some photos (and I do highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Geneva).

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The Malta CRC review was perhaps the most eye-opening moment of the trip so far! I never knew much about Malta, but not even 10 minutes into giving a general overview of child's rights in Malta, the Maltese State representative already spoke about trans, intersex children as well as non-discrimination of diverse gender identity expressions of children. She also mentioned progressive family structures and gave a mention to increasing numbers of families with same-sex parents! I was very pleasantly surprised, as you would imagine, because I never could envision the same words coming out from the mouth of a State representative from Singapore. I decided to do a little more research on Malta and found out that they are actually rather progressive in terms of LGBTQ+ rights in Europe (read more here) and I could not have been more inspired by their conversations and topics of discussion. I will attempt to do a comparison between some central themes that come up in the reviews between Malta and Singapore once the review for Singapore is over because I think that might be interesting to look at! Of course, I know that these words might not match reality (which is unfortunately the case most times), but the very fact that the Maltese government even recognises LGBTQ+ and intersex children and puts in effort in trying to engage with queer groups and organisations to come up with policies specifically targeted at helping the community really touched my heart in many, many ways!

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I was also thrilled and happy to hear one member of the committee (her name is Velina Todorova) who brought up questions about anti-discrimination and intersex children’s rights. I managed to speak to Velina during the break and she said she will try her best to bring up some of our concerns in the report. We can only cross our fingers and hope that she will! There is much anxiety in my restless self today (and every day to be honest), but also full of hope and joy learning more about Malta and hearing from Velina.

Read Part 2 of Tiffany's journey.

Statement of the Asian LBTQ Caucus – 8 December 2017 – Phnom Penh

Written by jean on . Posted in Advocacy

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Sayoni was pleased to announce the successful Asian LBTQ Caucus consultation on 8 December 2017 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Along with ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Justice for Sisters, UN Women Asia Pacific, we facilitated a 2 day session on lesbian, bisexual and queer women’s issues from 4-5 December 2017, ahead of the ILGA Asia 2017 conference.

 

An estimated 60 participants joined in the discussions, personal story sharing, queer movement history mappings, and the distillation of key issues and concerns for lesbian, bisexual, trans women, trans men and queer (LBTQ) persons. Activists came from across Asia, including from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, Nepal, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The LBTQ Caucus was a first of its kind in Asia and took place due to the demands of LBTQ activists to address the consistent marginalization of LBQ women’s visibility and leadership within the wider movements for LGBTIQ+ human rights.

 

A collaborative statement was written to highlight core concerns and eleven recommendations on how to move forward towards strengthening movements for LBTQ rights across the region.

 

Statement of the Asian LBTQ CAUCUS*

 

8 December 2017 | Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

Lesbian, bisexual, trans women, trans men, and queer persons (LBTQ) exist in all of human diversity. Our issues and concerns cut across diverse groups and communities, including other marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, refugees, migrant workers, and indigenous peoples.

 

LBTQ persons experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in multiple spaces based on our assigned, actual, or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). We face arbitrary persecution, socio-economic marginalization, and violation of our self-determination, sexual autonomy, and bodily integrity because of our SOGIESC. Our experiences are often invisible, silenced, and unaddressed.

 

Media Advisory on 2017 CEDAW Report

Written by sayoni on . Posted in Advocacy

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Media Advisory

23 October 2017

Sayoni’s 2017 CEDAW Shadow Report on Singapore shows recommendations not heeded, obligations not fulfilled in ending discrimination against LBTQ women

Geneva, Switzerland − Despite its claims that it has advanced women’s causes in the country, Singapore has fallen short, especially in supporting lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBTQ) individuals, says Singapore-based LBTQ women’s group Sayoni.

Sayoni has submitted a Shadow Report to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee for the 68th CEDAW Session in 2017. It highlights pertinent issues concerning institutional discrimination against LBTQ women and transgender men in Singapore.

Silence on LBTQ women’s plight in the fifth state report and the lack of concrete action and substantive measures following the 49th Session in 2011 reveal significant gaps in Singapore’s fulfillment of its obligations to the Convention.

Submitted to the CEDAW Committee at the United Nations, the evidence-based report’s recommendations include:

  • Concrete action in implementing anti-discrimination legislation,
  • Rectifying media codes and censorship,
  • Improving capacity among state and non-state actors to end violence,
  • Equalising marriage rights, access to residency for same-sex spouses, and protection of rights of children from same-sex households,
  • Equalising access to information on LGBTQ sexual and reproductive health.

Singapore ratified CEDAW in 1995 and periodically submits a compliance report to the Committee. Local civil society organisations independently submit shadow reports to supplement the government’s report.

At the 49th session in New York (2011), the CEDAW Committee, in its Concluding Observations under “Stereotypes and harmful practices” (points 21-22), called upon the State party to: “Put in place, without delay, a comprehensive strategy to modify or eliminate patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes that discriminate against women, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in conformity with the provisions of the Convention. Such measures should include efforts, in collaboration with civil society, to educate and raise awareness of this subject, targeting women and men at all levels of society.”

The State responded at the CEDAW pre-session in 2011 (point 31.1) that: “The principle of equality of all persons before the law is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

After this 68th CEDAW session in Geneva, Sayoni hopes the Singapore government will:

  1. Pay close attention to and take into serious consideration all the Committee’s recommendations pertaining to discrimination of women based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  2. Move beyond broad rhetoric and take concrete action to effect substantive and material changes towards eliminating institutional discrimination against LBTQ women.
  3. Sincerely collaborate with non-state organisations to raise awareness and protection of LBTQ women from discrimination and abuse.

About Sayoni
Established in Singapore in 2006, Sayoni is a community committed to empowering queer women.

For updates, visit:

Contact
For enquiries and interviews, please email Jean Chong at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sayoni's Letter to ST Forum on Sexual Abuse Article

Written by alina on . Posted in Advocacy


This is Sayoni's unpublished letter to the Straits Times Forum following its report on a transgender man who sexually abused a minor ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"). We feel strongly about this issue and hope that the mainstream media will strive for more accuracy and respect in its reports about LGBTQ persons. Thanks to all who contributed to the writing of this letter.

Using incorrect pronouns for transgender people reinforces stigma

Sexual abuse is a serious crime. We at Sayoni, a community of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, condemn it regardless of age and gender. The emotional and psychological effects of abuse can last many years. However, we find that the language used in the recent report ("Woman admits to sexually abusing girl, 13"; Dec 8) is damaging to transgender people, reproducing negative stereotypes.

Firstly, describing the accused’s gender identity as ‘a bogus identity’ is inaccurate. According to the article, he has already been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and should, therefore, be identified using male pronouns or by his name.

Failing to do so misrecognises a transgender person’s chosen identity. It does not acknowledge that transgender people may have good reason not to reveal their sex at birth, such as facing potential rejection by partners or family members or discrimination and violence from members of society.

The choice of words also undermines the legitimacy of a transgender person’s family life. For instance, scare quotes are unnecessary when referring to the accused's partners and daughter. Diverse families that go beyond the traditional heterosexual structures are being formed every day. But these families lack the state assistance given to the conventional family unit, such as Personal Protection Orders against abusive partners.

Furthermore, is the accused’s gender identity relevant to a case of sexual assault of a minor? The real issue is the act of abuse, the harm to the child and the power imbalance between the minor and the adult.

Transgender people already face a disproportional amount of discrimination and violence in their lives. In our move to become an inclusive society that seeks to build strong families and communities, we caution against reporting that disparages transgender individuals. We hope that the media can present gender identity fairly and avoid further stigmatising an already marginalised group of people.

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