Lifestyle, Arts & Culture

Feminism in Singapore: “We’ve Been Ignoring the Experiences Of Women On the Fringes”

 
Feminism in Singapore: “We’ve Been Ignoring the Experiences Of Women On the Fringes”

Feminism in Singapore: "We've Been Ignoring the Experiences Of Women On the Fringes" Women Unbounded
Community initiative Women Unbounded explains why Singapore needs feminism that isn’t just “majority-race, middle-class, and heteronormative.” Illustration by Cindy Witono.

For all the advances that the gender equality movement in Singapore has made, there are still plenty of women who “fall through the cracks.” As Jesie Randhawa, a member of community initiative Women Unbounded, says: “We have been ignoring the experiences of women that have been elbowed out to the fringes — a lot of feminism in Singapore can be very majority-race, middle-class, middle-aged and heteronormative.”

Think of migrant women, LGBTQ+ women, or older women: All communities that are typically excluded from the mainstream conversation surrounding gender equality in Singapore.

 

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It’s why Randhawa and her team think that feminism shouldn’t just be a purely gender-based distinction: It’s not fair, she explains, to assume that a transgender woman of colour will  beafforded the same privileges that a cisgender Caucasian — or even Chinese — woman would get.

 

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Women Unbounded’s long-running ‘Quick Takes’ series on Instagram breaks down thorny topics, providing much-needed research and background information to their followers; topics include the egg freezing debate as well as gender biases in healthcare.

They also produce stories related to queer and LGBTQ+ issues; a recent piece explored the rich queer history of Bugis Street, and how a safe space for transgender women eventually became a sterilised, heteronormative retail complex.

 

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Randhawa says that Women Unbounded also wants to raise awareness about issues facing women around the world. From reporting on the historic violence against women in Kashmir to explaining the implications of Myanmar’s military coup on women’s rights, Women Unbounded aims to show that the fight for gender equality is a universal one.

“Safe and tucked away on this island bubble, it is dangerous to be as inward-looking as we are as a society,” she says. “And it isn’t just about noticing how bad it may be somewhere else for women — but to admire the collective determination and willpower to mobilise in the face of injustice, and to say: I deserve better.”

 

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How do you think mainstream feminism (or at least the prevalent school of thought in Singapore) fares currently?
I definitely think that since the pandemic began, there has been a noticeable upshot of activism in Singapore including intersectionality – WU has been a part of this movement that is clearly not slowing down. We have a long way to go – intersectional feminism and its importance takes time to learn along with the self-consciousness of the prejudices we need to unlearn. It only takes time, patience and enough self-love and understanding to do the good work.

However, a lot of feminism in Singapore can be very majority-race, middle-class, middle-aged and heteronormative. There’s also a tendency to measure equality and progress though an economic lens (which is very patriarchal, mind you). Closing the gender pay gap? Brilliant, I think we’re all good… We have been ignoring the experiences of women that have been elbowed out to the fringes – women of minority races, transwomen with heartbreakingly low life expectancies, women who work multiple jobs to support themselves and their families, vulnerable migrant women, both older and younger women, women who are survivors, women with a non-heterosexual orientation and gender identity, etc.

Fantastic work has been done in the name of feminism in Singapore, and it does little to bemoan the gains made in the past, so I celebrate them! Nevertheless, it is time we expanded our horizons to include those who have been marginalised.

 

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What exactly is intersectional feminism?
At its most basic, intersectionality means no one falls through the cracks. We all have multiple identities that overlap and combine to inform the kinds of lived experiences we would have with prejudice or discrimination (and privilege) – some of these include race, gender identity, class, physical ability, language etc. Intersectional feminism refuses to treat feminism as being an entirely gender-based distinction of inequality. For example, there is a difference between a majority-race woman in Singapore and a minority-race woman in terms of their access to opportunities, and therefore the feminism we afford both needs to include these differences in privilege.

I should also say that the word ‘privilege’ understandably gets a bad rep – but we should not be afraid of it, and rather accept and use it to uplift others not afforded the same.

 

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Beyond local issues, WU also talks about issues affecting women in other countries — from Poland to Kashmir. Why was that important for you?
I’m glad this was asked! Locally, there is a lot of stigma attached to the concept of protests– there is almost always a creeping perception of deviance or just outright disapproval in response to any form of activism here. In short, a ‘how dare they’ mentality. For this reason, I am a strong believer that protest culture needs to be discussed more in Singapore. Safe and tucked away on this island bubble, it is dangerous to be as inward-looking as we are as a society when the fight towards equality is a continuous process and social change is beginning to transcend borders in our interconnected world.

There is always something to take away when engaging with the stories of others; empathy can be learnt and solidarity shown, and there is power in being inspired by the feminist voices of other women. It isn’t just about noticing how bad it may be somewhere else for women – but to admire the collective determination and willpower to mobilise in the face of injustice, and to say: I deserve better.

 

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Ultimately, what would you say you want Women Unbounded to do?
One of our biggest, continuous goals is making sure WU is accessible to anyone who wants to contribute to an important cause, and for us to be a place of opportunity and growth for whoever wishes it. On a grander note, I can’t help but dream that we will become a site of large-scale, nationwide mentorship, mutual aid and research. To evolve into a media powerhouse with the reach to uplift our most marginalised communities will never not be an ultimate aspiration.

Honestly, I’m already pleased if we’ve made a significant impact on one person’s growth. So naturally, it would be wonderful if WU could make shock waves in our local society.

Very simply, I hope WU continues to inspire and change lives the way it already has for myself, and so many of my peers.

This story about feminism in Singapore first appeared on L’officiel Singapore.