In October 2017, Singapore government officials who were in Geneva, Switzerland, to report on gender equality in the nation met an unexpected barrage of questions on the situation of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other queer (LBTQ) women. In response, the officials evaded the questions, denied that there was discrimination, and insisted that LBTQ women were not discriminated against. But the women’s rights experts who asked the questions had clearly heard the voices of Sayoni and our civil society allies. Among their list of recommendations for Singapore, published a month later, was a section devoted to LBTQ and intersex women, recommending that the Singapore government put in place laws and policies to protect this group, including its media policies.
This was a landmark move from the group of independent experts, who are elected to serve four-year terms and convene to review the progress of states that have signed the treaty. The Singapore government ratified CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), a United Nations treaty, in 1995 and has regularly submitted reports on measures it has taken to implement gender equality within the country according to the CEDAW framework.
However, LBTQ issues are not always included in Concluding Observations, and when they are, they are seldom given wide, overarching treatment. Hence, Sayoni is pleased that the experts were able to recognise our point that LBTQ women are subject to intersecting forms of discrimination and efforts must be made to specifically ensure protections for this minority group. We hope that the government is similarly able to acknowledge the discrepancies that need to be redressed and takes steps to equalise laws and policies for all women.
Sayoni engaged in a host of advocacy efforts leading up to the fifth review of Singapore in 2017. Five years ago, we documented evidence of violence and discrimination among LBTQ women in a multi-year project that we plan to release in report format. This evidence informed the shadow report that we submitted to the CEDAW Committee to supplement information from the government report. We were also proud to be part of a coalition of civil society groups (“Many Voices, One Movement”) that submitted a comprehensive coalition shadow report highlighting important issues to the CEDAW Committee, including the concerns of migrant workers, sex workers, and Muslim women.
In October 2017, representatives from Sayoni travelled to Geneva to personally lobby the CEDAW Committee, as we had done during the last cycle in 2011. Members of the committee were very receptive to our points and brought up most of them during the session with Singapore state representatives. These questions were further condensed for the final document in the form of recommendations for Singapore.
The following recommendations on LBTQ women are excerpted from the Concluding Observations:
27. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(c) Address negative stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes with regard to the sexuality of adolescents.
Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women
40. The Committee expresses concern that lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women face discrimination in various areas of life, and that their situation is often exacerbated by the policies of the State party, including its media policy.
41. The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women are effectively protected against all forms of discrimination in law and in practice, including by undertaking educational and awareness-raising campaigns to combat discriminatory stereotypes, including in its media policies.
- CEDAW Committee's Concluding Observations for Singapore
- 2017 Singapore CEDAW Coalition, "UN experts repeat call for laws to enshrine gender equality in Singapore"
- Video of Singapore's constructive dialogue at the 68th session of the UN CEDAW Committee: Part 1 | Part 2
- Video of NGO coalition's oral statement to the CEDAW Committee: Part 1 | Part 2
- Sayoni's 2018 shadow report
- Sayoni’s CEDAW microsite
- Singapore CEDAW Coalition shadow report
- Singapore's Fifth CEDAW Periodic Report
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:
- 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.
- Move beyond broad rhetoric and take concrete action to effect substantive and material changes towards eliminating institutional discrimination against LBTQ women.
- Sincerely collaborate with non-state organisations to raise awareness and protection of LBTQ women from discrimination and abuse.
Established in Singapore in 2006, Sayoni is a community committed to empowering queer women.
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This year, Sayoni Camp offers the opportunity to get in touch with yourself and start a journey to becoming your intrinsic, authentic self.
Do the words authentic self, emotional self, life position, resilience, well-anchored, contentment and presence stir something in you? If so, this camp is for you. Get to know the self. Be empowered with insight into how you have been automatically operating. Transform your current life position and get to a place you desire to be.
Self-discovery is also about fun. We promise excitement and loads of laughter if you are willing to come play with us! You will be in the company of like-minded women in an atmosphere created for self-discovery. Previous campers have raved about the surprises and joys they have experienced – you can too.
This camp will be led by two facilitators and supported by volunteers who are devoted to the empowerment of women. Much effort and heart has gone into planning this to create a safe, conducive environment for your fun and growth.
Click here to find out more about the camp! Sign up before 30 June 2016 to enjoy an early bird discount.
Sayoni Camp is back! Our self-development getaway will run from 6-8 August 2016. Make new friends, have fun in the sun, and enjoy a journey of discovery!
We aim to provide a fun-filled and meaningful experience for all campers. Our goal is to promote self-development and growth.
We welcome all queer women to join us for an unforgettable weekend getaway. Limited early bird rate ends 30 June.
Update: Thanks to all participants and facilitators for a meaningful, fun-filled camp!