I wrote the following to Today on 4 August 2015, in response to two letters regarding unequal benefits for single and unwed mothers that were published on Today. Since my letter was not selected for publication, I am posting it here instead. Interestingly, the writer of the second letter responded to his critics with this letter, published on 6 August 2015, saying that his letter was “perhaps satire, but in bad form”, and he apologised for it.
While I respect everyone’s right to hold and express opinions, I am appalled by the attitude expressed in the letters, “Unwed mums did make choices that led to their situation” (Aug 1) and “Unequal benefits for single unwed mums a matter of deterrence” (Aug 3).
Both letters contain statements that not only support the continued institutionalised discrimination of women based on their marital status, but call upon society to blame women for not falling into line with the status quo. The writers have also failed to see the need for social inclusion or the need for all children to be treated with equity, and have patronisingly insisted that marriage is the only way one can legitimately have children, or engage in sexual activities.
First of all, the role of men seemed to be lacking in their arguments. They seem to have excused the men who have found it right to pack up and leave the women whose children they have fathered, and instead blamed women for finding the courage to take up the responsibility to bring up their children single-handedly.
Secondly, not all unwed mothers are single. Although it is still not very common in our society, there are couples who choose not to go down the path of marriage, but are still committed to one another as well as in their roles as parents. Besides that, there are some same-sex couples who may choose to have children, but due to the fact the same-sex marriage is currently illegal in Singapore, they are seen as single and unwed parents. Does the society then punish children from these non-conventional family units, because some hold contemptuous views against the decisions made by their parents?
In addition, what about women who have made the decision to adopt? It is legal for single and unwed women to adopt, so why should they not be included in the incentives provided by the system?
We should not dictate what women can or cannot do with their bodies and lives, or insist that marriage is the only option for every single member of society who wants to have children or even just sex. We should also reflect upon the way our system seems to hold those who do not fall into line with the status quo hostage through institutionalised discrimination, while at the same time demanding them to contribute to the country’s economy through holding down jobs and paying taxes.
Finally, premarital sex and having children out of wedlock are not crimes, nor are they immoral. The “threat of inequality” as a deterrent to prevent unwed women from engaging in premarital sex and having children, is grossly authoritarian, sexist since men are rarely held to the same standards, and the imposition of patriarchal values on women who deserve the freedom to choose what they do with their bodies, their sexualities, and their reproductive lives. We should become a more inclusive society that favours equal opportunities and incentives, over discrimination.
Screenshots of the letters, for archival purposes:
Fact: I have never said that crimes should go unpunished. However I am of the opinion that we need to peel the layers and discover the roots of these crimes, as heinous as they may be, and find a more holistic solution that will heal the society and victims, reform the perpetrators, and give us better knowledge on how to prevent such crimes from happening. Calling for blood and thinking that it is justice, is in my opinion not only a simplistic view which doesn’t help to solve any problems, but also a very contradictory position to have.
Indeed, murder and terrorism are heinous crimes against humanity. However some of those who are vehemently against these crimes, have spoken in favour of the most premeditated form of murder in which every single procedure is carefully timed and measured with the intention to kill, i. e., capital punishment. That sounds similarly heinous in itself, and I personally hold the principles behind “an eye for an eye” with utter contempt.
How about applying Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory (of human development), as one of the ways to identify possible causes of crimes instead? Crimes, do not simply occur overnight. Alienation, harsh circumstances in the early years, abuse, trauma, discrimination, and extreme moments of desperation, along with low resiliency and the inability to seek for adequate options or in reality, the lack of options in itself, are some (note: I said, “some”) of the reasons that lead to crimes. It may be really easy for many of us to say that “Person A should have know better than to do this,” or “Perseverance is a value that Person B should embrace, instead of resorting to this”, but let’s remind ourselves that our lived experiences, realities, and challenges, might be entirely different from the ones whose crime we have condemned.
Of course, no one is obligated to agree with me. All I ask for is for everyone to reflect on, and question their personal stance once in awhile, before sending me death threats, spreading untruths, or send me emails with sexist remarks everytime I release a statement against State murder. Not that they actually bother me in the way that they were intended to, but I just feel that the time that was spent typing a death threat could have been spent on cognitively enriching activities such as reflecting, deconstructing (of personal thoughts), and further reading.
Urm… perhaps before hitting “send”, a grammar or spell-check might make your messages a little less hilarious.
“I wish you die by some thugs chop you into numarous peaces you uneducated bitch?!?!?!”
I nearly replied with an edited version.
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
At the High Court this morning, Court 6C appeared more crowded than usual. It was then I realised that besides the re-sentencing of Cheong Chun Yin and Pang Siew Fum, it was also the day of sentencing for Michael Anak Garing and Tony Imba.
Anxious faces could be seen, and I was too, a bundle of nerves. Silently, I wished that everyone would go home with a sense of relief. I distracted myself by looking at what the security officers were doing, and tried to eavesdrop on the chatter between the lawyers present and the Prosecutors. Then we were called to rise as Justice Choo Han Teck took his seat.
Then the first process of the day began.
The microphones did not work too well, so we had to lean forward to hear what was going on. It did not help that my brain was having a conversation on its own – “Which one of the accused is Michael, and which is Tony?”, “Will we receive bad news today?”, “Chill woman, focus!”, and “Why am I suddenly so sleepy?”.
My heart sank a little when Tony, the second accused, was asked to stand. It is usually not a good sign for the first accused. Justice Choo announced that Tony would be sentenced to life imprisonment, and 24 strokes of the cane. Then, the Court was asked to rise for the sentence of death to be read out.
The mood was sombre. Everyone was silent, but I thought I could hear a sniffle from the row behind me. Michael’s death sentence was then passed.
“… you are hereby sentenced to be taken from here to a lawful prison and then to a place of execution where you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead…”
Despite the fact that I have been on the campaign for 6 years now, that was actually the first time I was present in the courtroom when an individual was sentenced to death. I am still overwhelmed by how that moment felt, but I am unable to articulate it well enough to fully describe the intensity of it all.
Certainly, the victims did not deserve to be harmed. However, two wrongs do not make one right. State murder is still murder, and even more deliberately planned than the original crime, which was robbery with hurt (which led to the death of their victim). Michael, 26, is younger than me, and if all other avenues become exhausted in due time, he will no longer have a future or a chance to make amends in any other ways… for the noose is already halfway on its way to his neck.
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng
Disclaimer: I am expressing this with genuine amusement. It is a positive emotion okay? ;)
In Thailand: A man has been sentenced to 25 years in jail for an offensive Facebook post. Alamak, why sial?
In Malaysia: Several people who aren’t in the government’s favour, have been arrested, and are facing charges of sedition. Alamak again, why like that?
In China: 5 feminist activists are still under arrest for calling sexism out. So, lewd jokes about women in the official media is ok? Wow, is it too late to turn back time and return to being a ball of cells, so that I can try to grow a gigantic dick?
In Singapore: A teenager is assisting the police for the LKY death hoax, and another has been charged in court for posting an offensive video. Alamak, why are we taking them so seriously?
BUT when suppposedly well-educated, and very credible Asian politicians make derogatory remarks against any groups of people, including the religious, it seems ok and we hardly question them or throw them into jail for sedition. We even publish their remarks on the national mouthpieces for all to read.
Is that what we call… “Asian values”? Aiyoh, double standards leh, my dear sisters and brothers in Asia. How about treating royalties, politicians, and common citizens equally? WAIT, that’s “Evil Western Values”. Ok sorry, I will face the wall and think about what I have said.
Now, I wish that I am that community cat at the void deck. She can growl, scratch, walk away, and glare, but still gets good food and so much love.
Like I have said, this is all very amusing.
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng
To my dearest friends in Hong Kong,
I am in solidarity with you now, the way you have always been in solidarity with me, supporting my human rights work throughout the years.
Thank you for believing in the value of my work, and now comes the time for me to render you my moral support from where I am.
Yours in solidarity,
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.
Rachel Zeng (Ms)
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.
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?