My letter to the Assistant Chief Executive and Chief Librarian of the National Library Board
July 9, 2014, 3:23 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

Ms Tay Ai Ching
Assistant Chief Executive and Chief Librarian
Public Library Services Group
National Library Board

Dear Ms Tay,

I am writing in response to the news that two books have been taken off the catalogue and shelves of your libraries after receiving feedback that these books run in contrary to Singapore’s “pro-family” position.

I would like to emphasise that the two books which have been withdrawn from your shelves, are in no way contrary to Singapore’s “pro-family” position. As experience has informed me, “atypical” family units, for the lack of a better term, have been wrongly misunderstood and discriminated for far too long.

Having been an early childhood educator for the past 10 years, I have met and worked with children from different family backgrounds. While most of them come from the typical family unit consisting of biological parents who are in a heterosexual union, there are some who come from single parent families. I have also met children with parents of the same gender, as well as children living with adopted or foster parents. In most of these families, there exist a large amount of love and care despite the common fallacy that only families that derived from heterosexual unions are morally functional.

Due to society’s over-emphasis on what a typical family unit should be, some children from “atypical” family backgrounds do sometimes feel out of place. Being the odd ones out can hamper young children’s socio-emotional development, which in turn affects other areas of development. Hence, it is highly important that educators make the effort to create an inclusive learning environment that encourages acceptance and respect for one another. Furthermore it is the responsibility of educators to expose our students to concepts that exist in reality, in order to inculcate a sense of acceptance and respect for diversity within the local and global communities. This is one of the key purposes of education.

To achieve the abovementioned goals, educators should ideally provide materials that go beyond the narrow scope of what constitutes “normality” or “typicality”. This includes books such as And Tango Makes Three by Richardson and Parnell (2005), and The White Swan Express by Okimoto and Aoki (2002). Therefore I view the news with severe disappointment, especially when similar materials are few and rare in this overly conservative society.

Last but not least as a resource centre of knowledge, the National Library Board (NLB) should maintain a diverse collection of reading materials in your libraries that will cater to the educational needs of everyone from as young as 18 months old to those who are 60 and beyond. It should not limit the availability of knowledge by pandering to the standards of a conservative minority. I would like to take this opportunity to implore the NLB to put these two books back on the shelves of your libraries, as well as acquire a wider variety of such materials for the educational well-being of the public that the board seeks to serve.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Rachel Zeng (Ms)

Graffiti, the Circle A, and hilarious censorship
May 8, 2014, 12:56 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

On the third anniversary of our last General Elections in Singapore where the People’s Action Party (PAP) saw a 60.1% victory and thus remained as the dominant political party in Parliament, some unknown individuals commemorated it by sprawling graffiti on the rooftop of a HDB flat at Toa Payoh Lorong 4. The graffiti said “F*** the PAP, wake up Singapore“, along with the Circle A which is the symbol of Anarchism. Here, take a look at it:


What really amuses me was the effort put into scouting for a high rise building nestled in the heartlands, where surveillance cameras were nowhere in sight. I assumed that this was done by more than one individual, probably with a belay, and possibly inspired by this banner (see below) which was part of the effort to protest against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in 1999. Visibility is always the main priority, and they’ve nailed it. I will give them an A+ for this.

Hanging In The Seattle Sky. Activists warn that the WTO is dangerous to democracy

However, I just don’t understand why the Circle A has to be used here. It is totally irrelevant.

An anarchist who knows and understands the fundamental principles of the ideology is not in support of any political parties and structures including the opposition parties. A real anarchist will write “Sack the Government, give the power back to the people“, “Down with the establishment“, and/or “Kill capitalism, it kills” instead of wasting such a prominent space for such a weak message that actually sounds kind of juvenile. This is obviously not an attempt to promote the anarchist cause, and will certainly lead to a lot of misunderstandings about the fundamental principles of the ideology. I may be wrong but then again, they get an F grade for the wasted opportunity to express a more substantial message, and the misuse of the Circle A.

Then again, the award of Epic Failure of the Day goes to the Straits Times for their censorship of the image published on their website. Here, I’ve got a screenshot:

By pixelating “PAP” along with “F***“, it certainly gave new significance to the acronym of the party’s name…


Oh yes, censorship is so PAPPED up, don’t you think?

Some thoughts on the debate surrounding the Women’s Charter
April 26, 2014, 2:05 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Gender, Singapore

womens charter

The debate on the whether the Women’s Charter should be reviewed and renamed has surfaced again, and rightly so.

For many years now, I view it with disdain as I consider many aspects of the Women’s Charter outdated and hence, irrelevant to our society in this day and age.

Being outdated, several aspects of the Women’s Charter have contributed to the flawed understanding of feminism and feminists, as well as the movement to achieve gender equity. Unintentionally, these aspects also contribute towards the continuation of gender stereotypes, and gender discrimination.

Now, the Women’s Charter was relevant at a time when women were held disadvantaged by feudal practices when it came to marriage and gender. It was indeed a great achievement in the quest to emancipate women from such disadvantaged positions. In order to maintain its relevancy however, it should also be progressively reviewed so as to achieve greater equity within the society whose members the Act strives to protect.

Regarding the debate, some have called for the total abolition of alimony while others think that alimony should stay. I feel that the issue cannot be debated or discussed based on such a binary as there are many factors we have to consider. So here are my thoughts:

For those seeking for the abolition of alimony, I hope you will consider this -

Although in this day and age whereby the employment opportunities and education levels of women have improved, it is still not going to be a smooth sailing journey for women to immediately get a job after being full time home makers for several years. Alimony when granted, should cover this period of time as it is just fair to ensure that women who were fully dependent on their former partners, are able to financially survive while attempting to get back into the workforce again. The amount should be reasonable, and equivalent to the amount she was being supported with before.

For those who insist that alimony should solely be granted to women -

This is pure sexism, and promotes the idea that women are an inferior and are not able to support themselves. This insistence also discriminates men who have been home makers, and dependent on their wives financially. They should equally be eligible for alimony as well, in the time where they try to get back into the workforce.

This hasn’t been brought up as far as I have read, but should be considered -

Where children are involved, I am of the opinion that both parents should contribute to a child support fund, that will ensure that children coming from broken families do not suddenly become financially disadvantaged as a result of the divorce – something which they did not ask for.

Custody of children – 

Granting of custody should seriously cease to be bias. Society should cease to see men as inferior individuals when it comes to providing a nurturing and supportive environment for their children, and women should ceased to be seen as having more ability to do so.

In addition, no parent should restrict the other of visitation rights unless there are concrete evidences that this will put their children in dangerous positions of being harmed (e.g., all forms of abuse).

Regarding the name of the Women’s Charter -

Let’s just name it the Family Charter, or Family Law Act instead, because this is what it is all about.

No abandoned migrant workers in Singapore?
March 19, 2014, 11:55 pm
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

COIMr Kevin Teoh, MOM’s divisional director for Foreign Manpower Management who represented the ministry at the Commission of Inquiry claimed that he was “surprised that he (Mr Russell Heng from TWC2) made the assertion” that destitution exists among low-waged migrant workers in Singapore.

Okay. He should step out of the comfort of his white-collar office, and check out the shelter at Cuff Road for a start.

Oh wait, Minister Tan Chuan Jin conducted a fact-finding visit to TWC2’s soup kitchen and Cuff Road Project in 2011. He also met with the executive committee of the NGO to talk about the issues faced by low waged migrant workers (see report here). Since it was a fact-finding visit, one would assume that being the ministry’s divisional director for Foreign Manpower Management, Mr Teoh must be aware about the issues discussed during the meeting but it seems that he does not.

So what, is it due to the lack of communications within the ministry, or is he sleeping on the job?

Or is this simply a case of a civil servant who is in denial of the issues faced by low waged migrant workers, including delayed salaries and accommodation issues?

Well whatever the reasons are, I must say that I am shocked that he was surprised by Mr Heng’s “assertions” that destitution exists among our low waged migrant workers here.

Some thoughts about the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill
February 21, 2014, 12:44 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

Photo credit: TODAY

Photo credit: TODAY

After a four hour debate in Parliament, the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill was passed on Tuesday.

Alright so, the result is hardly a surprise but I strongly oppose the passing of the additional measures, especially due to the following reasons:

1. While I acknowledge the government’s intentions to ensure that a similar riot does not occur, we have to bear in mind that the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) is currently on-going. However the government might have, in the absence of actual data and recommendations, assumed the causes and went on to establish preventive measures. Such an action also might weaken the status and standing of the CoI whose role is to work independently, with the objective of identifying the factors leading to the riot, which may also include any possible failures of law enforcement agencies as well as the government. (Yes this is all debateable)

2. The Bill grants the police and auxiliary police officers extensive discretionary powers to arrest anyone who they deem offensive or suspicious without a warrant. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I do expect them to do so reasonably. On the other hand, the lack of external oversight opens doors to abuse of authority. Being witness to several instances of racial profiling and rough treatment towards migrant workers in Little India whenever I am in the area, I feel rather uncomfortable with such a power being granted to the police and auxiliary police officers. On a related note but not limited to the Bill, should any police officers be granted the authority to search the premise or personal belongings of individuals without warrants, especially in the absence of violence?

3. Clause 19(3) of the Bill states that the government cannot be held liable for actions in respect of the act. This seems to suggest that victims of wrongful arrests or rough handling cannot seek redress by undertaking legal actions against the government or law enforcement agencies.

In addition, I find the Bill problematic because it assumes that all members of the law enforcement agencies hold unquestionable ability to be reasonable in actions and accurate in their assessment and decisions on who makes a suspicious individual.

I disagree with such harsh measures undertaken in response to the riot at Little India on 8 December. It is a rare incident that had occurred due to factors that are currently in the process of being identified by the CoI. In my opinion, it may be an emotional response to the sight of a fellow migrant worker being crushed under the bus. It may also be the perceived lack of emergency response. Whatever it is, the reasons are currently not fully known. So while I agree that the security in the area can be heightened to give the residents in the area a peace of mind, I am apprehensive that extensive discretionary powers should be granted to the police and auxiliary police officers.

Little India Riot: Repatriation frenzy
December 21, 2013, 12:25 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

lir repatriation

Fair trial for the 53 workers repatriated?
December 20, 2013, 1:29 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

(Published in The Online Citizen on 19 December 2013)

1525682_10151763607317026_1746343565_nIn its media release, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that 53 migrant workers will be repatriated after being given a “stern warning”. These workers are those who have been identified as participants in the riot that took place in Little India and have failed to disperse despite the police’s orders to do so. They were said to be rounded up in the morning of 17 December. These individuals will also be prohibited from returning to Singapore. This is while 28 out of those arrested are still in the process of being tried in Court and the Commission of Inquiry into the riot is still taking place.

As I understand it, the Controller of Work Passes and Controller of Immigration hold authority over the revocation of work passes. However as rioting is considered a crime against public order in Singapore under sections 147 and 148 of the Penal Code, these 53 individuals should have been given the opportunity to stand trial, with concrete evidences being produced before they are being found guilty of undesirable actions and before any appropriate actions can be taken against them.

While some might view this as the Ministry’s effort to send a message to the migrant community that harsh consequences will befall them should they disrupt public order, I don’t think this is how “justice” should be served. On the contrary, I personally find it disturbing that they can be simply be rounded up and repatriated in such a non-transparent manner.

Being major stakeholders in how our system is run, I think it is time that Singaporeans question the non-transparency that goes behind this decision to determine who was not being co-operative and whose work permits to revoke. It is also time to ponder over Singapore’s harsh stance on migrant workers who have erred as well as the fact that there is currently no avenue for them to appeal against the revocation of their work passes.

Let’s understand this too – most migrant workers came all the way to Singapore in debt and they contribute to our industries with their labour and skills in exchange of a better life for their families back home. Instead of treating them with such a lack of justice, the least we can do is to let them explain themselves in Court, where evidences will be produced to prove their involvement or innocence in the incident and have all possible mitigating factors considered.

Flowers at Little India as goodwill and peace
December 17, 2013, 1:19 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

A group of us distributed marigold at Little India to the migrant workers, Singaporeans (we also tried giving it to the police too) in memory of Sakthivel Kumaravelu as well as a gesture of friendship.

And of course, the police were very kind. They followed us everywhere ensuring law and order, filming our every actions. I hope none of us were digging our noses or scratching our bums though. :p

In solidarity with Alex Au
November 28, 2013, 1:21 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

solidarity with alex


On the necessity for public expression of constructive criticisms and differing opinions
October 26, 2013, 2:37 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng
Cartoon extracted from: Bruce Sallan

Cartoon extracted from: Bruce Sallan

Jeraldine Pneah, a local blogger, recently wrote a blog post entitled “Ego issues in Singapore’s civil society” based on her recent observations of “various quarrels online“.

While I can appreciate Jeraldine’s observations of civil society from what I see as a position of limited or zero interaction with most of us, our work and the way we engage with each other privately during meetings and discussions, I am not quite able to let her opinions go unchallenged. So here is a blog post in my humble attempt to paint a bigger picture of the civil society that I have come to know, appreciate and be part of in the past few years.

The reason why I am airing my disagreement in a public blog rather than writing to Jeraldine in person is because her opinions are displayed on a her blog. I strongly believe that alternative opinions should be expressed on the same platform as it is just fair for regular readers of online blogs to be presented with differing opinions and shall I add at the unfortunate risk of sounding patronising… realities and experiences.

“Civil society” is more diverse than observed

Citizen activism, as how I see it, did not just begin to grow in recent years. The current bunch of folks in civil society consists of advocates of human and animal rights with experiences ranging from as long as more than forty years to a few weeks or days. It did not just begin to grow, but has always been going through the process of growing and stagnation. Indeed it might be small compared to larger countries like Hong Kong, Philippines, Taiwan and basically almost all in the rest of the world, but civil society in Singapore is definitely not just made up of citizen journalists and activists. We have academics, social workers, artists, published writers and opposition politicians in our midst as well.

Issues such as gender equality, labour rights for local, migrant and sex workers, LGBTQ, death penalty, freedom of speech and expression, general discrimination, detention without trial etc have been taken up and championed by groups and individuals who form the general sector of “civil society.

The groups and individuals in civil society operate differently from each other. A handful work on their causes on a full-time basis, usually paid, while most of us do this in addition to our day jobs and our cause based work and activities are usually self-sponsored and not regularly funded. Some work towards having more engagement with governmental sectors and politicians, some believe in the need for pure ground work, some believe in “civil disobedience” while others believe in the need to be flexible in their approaches. Hence, civil society is really a very diverse sector in the social and political fabric of Singapore.

On agreements, disagreements, likes and dislikes

In her blog post, Jeraldine pondered “What is the point of publicly stating your stance immediately? Lashing out at them? Making personal attacks?

All human beings judge, form impressions, praise, criticise and express their opinions on a daily basis. Similarly, all human beings are being judged, they create impressions and go through being praised and criticised on a daily basis.

As folks who choose to express part of our cognitive self and personal belief systems publicly, be it through our socio-political work, blogs, Facebook or any other platforms, we are constantly subjected to the above mentioned cognitive and emotional processes that all human beings do go through. It is humanely impossible to expect otherwise, and since we put ourselves in such public positions, the general criticisms, judgments, agreements and disagreements also happen publicly.

Personally, I think that a discourse cannot exist without public discussions which include both agreement and disagreement. The reason why our socio-political climate is pretty much immature, often leading to personal and misogynistic attacks as well as instances whereby constructive criticisms are being taken personally, is due to the lack of understanding of global ideologies and critical exchanges of opinions no thanks to an overdose of self-moderation in a society that has not put much value in critical thinking when it comes to socio-political issues.

As much as criticisms or the existence of differing opinions can sometimes sting and “make people look bad”, we do need to take into consideration the value and validity of such statements and take time to reflect on our personal work, thoughts and conviction. Public expression of differing opinions reminds us that diversity exists and there is much to learn from and about the opinions of others, whether we like, dislike, agree or disagree with their thoughts (and actions).

However of course, I am not agreeing with irrelevant and baseless character assassination or sexist and misogynistic comments made in order to deny an individual’s right to intellectual and emotional expression based on discriminatory stereotypes (e.g., “Why don’t you shut up and go back to your bloody kitchen?” or “Eh, time of the month is it?”).

I am also not in agreement with fallacious labels being slapped upon well-meaning and vocal members of civil society or others who have made the effort to participate in the discussions (e.g., “Migrant rights groups are pro-foreigners” and “Since you say that we should not discriminate against foreigners, are you trying to tell us that you are anti-Singaporeans?“), even though several of these misunderstood individuals have continually taken the time and effort to explain themselves and their stance in the bid to seek for a common understanding BUT we must also understand that if people choose to stubbornly maintain their false opinions of the basis of our work, they do have all the right in the world to. Perhaps instead of letting that affect us, we should politely end the engagement and move on, while also reflecting on our personal effectiveness in communicating our intentions – something which all advocates in the world have to go through in order to develop a better way of advocacy.

Yes, this is a reminder to myself as well. :)

That said though, I do agree with Jeraldine that one can write to another in private to seek for clarification. In fact, there is much of that going on even in this current debate on the perception that foreigners are here to “threaten our livelihood” (quoted words aren’t mine) which may or may not be reflected in the public discussions and it is totally fine because they are after all, private discussions.

On intentions and motivations

We have to acknowledge the fact that there is no such thing as a full set of common interests and motivations across the board, while we seek to call for change in our society with our work on various causes. It varies, although there are instances whereby common interests and motivations do occur. This happens not only in civil society but in every sector and every corner of the world where human beings exist.

We cannot determine that an individual disagrees with another publicly in order to generate attention or to display superiority over another. However I am not entirely sure about what sort of comments Jeraldine was referring to when she mentioned “in the pursuit of wanting to come across as correct, that your method is the best, that you are intellectually and morally superior and more experienced“. I must say that my personal experiences with many of the folks in civil society, even after considering all the discussions and heated debates that have occurred when we work together, have mostly been in contrary to what she has experienced or observed.

Undoubtedly, bad experiences do occur (although rarely) but is that not a part and parcel of human interactions? Rather than letting ourselves be hurt and offended or let our credibility be torn apart, we should be ready to defend our opinions and work if we see the need to, or to learn from the experience. In short, we need to get rid of this “save face” mentality.

So what’s my point?

My point here is, we are not here to please everyone. For example, in the past few years of championing for human rights causes, several activists including myself, have received harsh judgments from total strangers to people we work with, love, care about and grow up with. We have also personally received death threats, threats to personal safety, sexist and misogynistic jibes, burned bridges (due to my straightforward nature) and rebuild them back again or see them forever destroyed (no doubt, it is very sad).

We cannot live life being bothered about who likes us and who do not, based on their disagreement of our thoughts and work, especially when they are complete strangers. In relation to our work as activists, we should do ourselves a great favour by not taking constructive public airing of opinions personally because it distracts us from the main purpose of our work. Also, taking differing opinions personally, whether on behalf of oneself or others, in my opinion, reflects one’s bruised ego and how one values self appreciation over the need for public discourse and discussions.

To Jeraldine, I would say that I am in no position to determine whether I like or dislike you (referring to one of your comments on FB in response to a friend’s criticism of you) because we do not know each other in person. As much as I disagree with several of the opinions expressed in your entire blog (I read your blog too!), you are definitely entitled to them… and I hope that you do not misunderstand this response of mine as an attempt to “come across as correct, that your method is the best, that you are intellectually and morally superior and more experienced” because I do not hold that sort of attitude and we are honestly, equals.

P.S: I am very long winded (“sipeh granny” like what my friend Joshua Chiang said), so I thank everyone for reading this. ;)


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