Confused about news reports about the CEDAW shadow report submitted by local NGOs? Who are these 13 NGOs? Why is 377A in the report? Here are all the facts!
- Why do NGOs make reports to the UN CEDAW Committee? Why not try to shape domestic opinion instead?
The Singapore state is a party to CEDAW. As part of the CEDAW process, it is required to report to the UN CEDAW Committee every few years. The Committee seeks information from other sources, including NGOs, in order to shape questions and recommendations for the State. Independent reporting from NGOs is a key part of the CEDAW process which the State has chosen to engage in.
The coalition groups are also involved in public education, awareness raising and discussion within Singapore. However, just as the Government has chosen to sign CEDAW and thus engage in a conversation with UN bodies and the international community about women’s human rights, we also think it is important, as NGOs, for us to participate in this process. The international standards applying to Singapore are a matter of interest for all members of our society, including NGOs.
- Who is involved in the coalition and how did this come about?
In 2011, a number of NGOs submitted individual reports. Afterward, many felt that the process could be improved by the submission of a joint report. Thus, in 2014, there began a consultation process involving SCWO members as well as some other groups who had previously been connected with the CEDAW process in some way. Workshops, discussions and other events took place over several years, with drafting on a range of agreed issues beginning in 2016. At an open meeting, it was agreed that an editorial committee composed of volunteers from several groups would help to coordinate the putting into text of the discussions so far. Drafts were circulated to all involved in the consultation in February, May, August and September 2017. Each time, feedback was invited, and each time an open meeting was later held to enable further discussion. Eventually, in September and October, groups made a final decision about whether they wished to be included in the final report.
- How did you decide what to put in the report? What happened if there were disagreements?
It was discussed and agreed at an early meeting in 2016 that the editorial committee should be guided by the UN CEDAW Committee’s Concluding Observations to Singapore in 2011. It was further agreed that issues included in the individual reports submitted by participating groups in 2011, should also be included in the joint report for this round. Within these parameters, further input and recommendations were also solicited from all participating groups, although not all chose to contribute. Most requests for changes or disagreements were discussed either in the open meetings, in editorial meetings or through email to reach a consensus or compromise. Where this was not possible, the 2011 Concluding Observations and other positions of the UN CEDAW Committee (based on documents such as their General Recommendations) became the basis for final decisions.
- I’ve heard some groups ‘withdrew support’ from the coalition. Is this true? Why did this happen?
The consultation process began with around 60 groups, but their participation in terms of replying to email, offering input or attending meetings varied according to their own interest or capacity. Some simply never offered any input or feedback at any point. Some who did not attend the meetings, waited only till late September, with the final CEDAW deadline looming, to raise any concerns. As for the final decision whether to add their names to the report, this was a matter for individual groups based on their own comfort and familiarity with both the substantive content of the report as well as the whole process of international human rights advocacy. Many have come along on a process of engagement and education but were just not ready to take on something so decisive as endorsement in the end.
- Do you believe you are representative of society with only 13 NGOs in your coalition?
The purpose of NGO CEDAW reports is not to be representative of all of society as it stands. It is also not a bead-counting exercise to see how many NGOs participate. Rather, it is to provide information relevant to the fulfillment of CEDAW obligations within the State. CEDAW itself recognises that gender stereotypes or norms that oppose equality may be prevalent in society. However, Singapore is party to the Treaty which means that Singapore has an obligation to undertake public education and other efforts to promote greater support for gender equality.
A coalition of 13 is in fact a significant step forward from 2011, when reports only came from individual groups rather than any coalition at all. Groups new to or intimidated by international human rights advocacy processes may choose not to add on their names even if they are sympathetic and appreciative of CEDAW standards. We are hopeful that this is only the beginning of a deepening collaboration between women’s groups and other groups that support the CEDAW goals.
- Why did you include Section 377A and LGBT rights?
LGBT rights were among the issues raised by the UN CEDAW Committee in 2011. LBT women also participated in the consultation process and offered input into how their rights have been affected by the matters raised in the report. As the joint report makes clear, although the letter of Section 377A applies to men only, the stigmatising impact of this law affects women in the LGBT community as well.
We note that the intended inclusion of LGBT rights was explicitly highlighted to participating groups in more than one meeting from 2016, and was clear from drafts circulated to all participating groups from February 2017. No objection or feedback was raised on this point until late September 2017.
- How can you make these recommendations on Muslim family law when you are not Muslim groups?
Muslim women have been involved at all stages of preparation of the report, from input and research to drafting and submission. Groups that are not “Muslim groups” in name can and do have numerous Muslim members, beneficiaries or clients. Our recommendations are based on a combination of experience as well as the CEDAW Committee Concluding Observations of 2011. Moreover, gender equality is a matter of concern for all in Singapore, and as members of society we should take an interest in the rights and welfare of all our fellow beings, regardless of religion.