More work to be done in fight for gender equality: Aware's Jolene Tan
Taboo of speaking about sexual harassment broken but more needs to be done
As the year draws to a close, some might remember 2017 as the year the taboo of talking about sexual harassment and sexism was broken, thanks to the women and men who have come out with their experiences.
Time magazine dubbed these people "the silence breakers", and earlier this month, it named them its Person of the Year.
This awareness did not start this year, said Ms Jolene Tan, who heads advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).
She told The New Paper that recognition and understanding of such issues have been growing for some time.
"In 2017, with #metoo, what we had was a huge and visible assurance for people that your voices will be heard if you tell your truth.
"It did not come out of nowhere, these conversations have been ongoing for a long time."
Ms Tan brought up 2011's SlutWalk Singapore, a campaign to eradicate victim blaming and misconceptions about consent.
The SlutWalk movement started in April 2011 in Toronto, Canada, where hundreds of people marched in protest against sexual violence and the blaming of victims who were judged as having dressed as "sluts".
While the event in Singapore was not a demonstration like SlutWalks elsewhere, it stood for the same causes and drew about 650 people.
"So many people now understand the terms victim blaming and slut shaming; this can be traced directly back to the efforts of that time," said Ms Tan.
The progress from this "global momentum" translates into actual numbers too.
In October, the month #metoo started trending, Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre logged 58 cases - higher than the year's monthly average of 37. This shows the rising bravery in reporting bad behaviour.
The "taboo is broken", Ms Tan said.
"These women thought they were alone, that it was shameful to talk about their experiences or maybe it was partly their fault, and they could not receive help. Many of these ideas are being overturned because they are seeing others say, 'It is not my shame, it is his shame.'
"The greater visibility has helped many people to see that there is help for them."
But the situation, Ms Tan said, is far from perfect. She stressed the importance of institutionalising the protection of women against discrimination.
This, she said, is in line with the recommendations the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Committee has repeatedly made to Singapore. It pointed out that the Singapore Constitution forbids discrimination on grounds of only "religion, race, descent or place of birth" - not gender .
"There needs to be institutionalised training so that this whole range of officials understand the gender dimensions against women," Ms Tan said, referring to people like law enforcement officials, lawyers and healthcare professionals.
She suggested to start in schools, where gender equality can be inculcated in the formative years.
She said: "Everybody here knows about racial and religious harmony, but do we have lessons that say it is important to treat everybody equally regardless of gender?"
When asked about the future of gender equality in Singapore, Ms Tan said she and the group will continue to keep the momentum going but facing the future's challenges cannot be done by them alone.
"The future depends on whether our leaders can seize the moment again to institutionalise these understandings that follow from these conversations. I think this is a good opportunity to take the insights from the public conversation and translate them into long-lasting change," she said.
"Whether our society manages to translate this huge conversational momentum into concrete institutional and long-term cultural change, well, that depends on what we all will do about it."