In an unprecedented move, 13 local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have joined forces to submit a report to a United Nations committee about the continuing gender inequalities in Singapore.
This follows news reports last week that some women’s organisations were not supporting the coalition report to the UN CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) Committee.
CEDAW, adopted by the UN in 1979, defines discrimination against women and sets an agenda for nations to end these inequitable laws, policies and practices.
The coalition of 13 NGOs submitted its report, titled ‘Many Voices, One Movement’, to the UN CEDAW Committee yesterday. This Committee, comprising international experts, monitors the progress of signatory countries to the targets of the treaty.
Singapore has been party to the Convention since October 1995. Like all signatories, it is required to submit every four years a report to the CEDAW Committee about what has been done to comply with and implement the provisions of CEDAW.
The Committee encourages NGOs to additionally submit their own reports about the situation in their countries. These NGO reports help the Committee to frame its questions when it meets the government delegations at the formal reporting sessions.
While individual Singapore NGOs have participated in previous CEDAW reporting cycles, this is the first time they have joined forces to prepare a joint report. Some of the NGOs will be sending representatives to Geneva next month.
“After over 20 years of Singapore being party to CEDAW, it is heartening that NGOs have pulled together a historic, unprecedented Coalition Report,” said Malathi Das, Chair of the Coalition and President of Zonta Club of Singapore.
“Although some consultation participants could not make the final list of endorsements, it has been a learning journey for all. We are hopeful more will join in the next cycle,” Ms Das added.
Veteran women’s rights advocate Dr Anamah Tan, the only Singaporean to have been a member of the UN CEDAW Committee, said: “Trail blazing and moving out of one’s comfort zone is not always smooth sailing. The report is the culmination of two years of negotiating, learning and understanding the differing views even amongst us who support the report.
“We all want to see an end to all forms of discrimination against women because of our gender. That is our aim and that is the ultimate aim of CEDAW. We have made good progress.”
Dr Tan, a founding member of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations in 1980 and formerly its president, added: “I had the privilege and honour of serving on the UN CEDAW committee from 2004 to 2008, during which I read hundreds of NGO reports of many countries. The UN Committee is aware of the constraints of each such report and appreciates the effort put in by the reporting NGOs. The Singapore coalition report will definitely be read with interest.”
Singapore submitted its Fifth Periodic Report to the Committee in October 2015. A government delegation will meet the CEDAW Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, on 25 October to discuss the report.
At these meetings, attended by NGOs, CEDAW Committee members question reporting states about progress in implementing CEDAW. Some months later, the Committee issues concluding observations and recommendations.
Following the session in Geneva, the NGO coalition looks forward to engaging the government on the issues listed in the NGO report, as well as the recommendations made by the UN CEDAW Committee.
Commenting on what the Coalition is hoping to see, Malathi Das said: “The Coalition seeks a decisive blueprint for achieving gender equality in all areas – family, employment and public life – and action on urgent issues like violence against women and migrants’ rights.”
Braema Mathi, immediate past president of Maruah, a human rights advocacy group, said: “MARUAH is very happy that diverse CSOs have come together to frame and support this Report. This is the way forward in the future. The challenge is to advocate CEDAW effectively.”
Halijah Mohamad, Vice-President of the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers (SAWL), added: “SAWL has never been involved in the preparation of previous CEDAW Shadow Reports and we were very pleased to have the opportunity to be involved in this maiden coalition exercise. We found our participation and efforts in this process a remarkably worthwhile and meaningful journey.”
For media queries, please contact us at sgcedawcoalition at gmail dot com. The full report can be found here. The list of coalition members can be found in Annex 1 to the report.