Celebrating International Human Rights Day 2007

Posted by under Public Forums on 15 December 2007

The aim of the event was to examine and reflect what Human Rights now means for the average Singaporean. We also wanted to look at what milestones Singapore has made in the global arena as well as the local stage.

Celebrating International Human Rights Day

On the 8th of December 2007, the Singapore Working Group for ASEAN (SWGA) held an event to celebrate International Human Rights Day at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. This is its first event since the conclusion of the 3rd ASEAN Civil Society Conference in November. The event saw some 50 participants that were not only representatives from various non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, but interested individuals as well.

Many of us here in Singapore live a comfortable life, rarely do we hear cases of people dying of hunger on the street. So since our stomachs are full, does this means that there's nothing else to worry about?

The aim of the event was to examine and reflect what Human Rights now means for the average Singaporean. We also wanted to look at what milestones Singapore has made in the global arena as well as the local stage. But of course, we also wanted to look at specific areas to which we, as a society, can improve on together.

For this event, the limelight was cast onto 3 groups:
1) The Disabled
2) Single Mothers
3) Migrant Workers

We started out with Eric Chen, 27, sharing his experience growing up with autism and the challenges that he still faces. He recounted how society treated him as a misfit, but with the support of his family, he went on to write 2 books to create better understanding and awareness about people living with autism, one of which was an autobiograhpy entitled "Autism & Self Improvement". For more information, visit www.iautistic.com.

Sinapan Samydorai, the Chair and focal point of the SWGA, opened the event proper with an introduction of the SWGA, its constituents, partners, goals and objectives. He also shared that although Singapore's society has improved greatly, there's still the need to create greater awareness and education of Human Rights.

To warm up and interact the participants, Alvin Tan from The Necessary Stage conducted some icebreakers to help everyone get to know each other better.

After everyone knew each other better, the two young mothers Ginny Phang and Josephine Kuek shared their experiences as Single Mothers in a talk-show style discussion, moderated by Tan Joo Hymn. Both women shared their experiences as Single mothers with the participants, taking turns to reflect on how they dealt emotionally with their pregnancies, how their family members' reactions affected them, how it was almost impossible for them to rent a flat from the HDB but above all, how they turned their experiences into something positive. Their candid sharing exposed the social and institutional discrimination faced by unwed mothers in Singapore.

To transition into the Migrant Worker issue, a voiceover by Sim Chi Yin, a journalist with The Straits Times, was played. Entitled "The Workers for Samsui", she shared her experience photographing the last of Singapore's Samsui women who were one of post-independent Singapore's pioneer migrant workers. The images, which were digitally presented during the voiceover, will be exhibited on bus stops islandwide for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival in January 2008.

John Gee, President of Transient Workers Count Too, went on to share his research on the essay he wrote to couple the exhibition. He drew parallels on how Samsui women were treated as national heroes, whilst the migrant workers here today are being marginalized. Both groups came to Singapore with the same objective, and that is to provide for their families back home. For more information about the exhibition and to read the full essay, visit www.singaporefringe.com.

To give the participants a more comprehensive understanding of Human Rights in Singapore, Joo Hymn, former President of AWARE, presented information about the two conventions that the Singapore Government has signed - The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

She also touched on the other conventions that Singapore has yet to sign - International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The main programme was concluded with a final sharing with our Guest-of-Honour, Mr. Ron Chandran-Dudley Founder and First Past President of the Disabled Peoples' Association. He shared with us his childhood with an Ah Mah and how he started to get involved in Human Rights from a young age. He then went on to share his experience as a social worker for 42 years and to reiterate the discrimination against people with physical disabilities in the workforce. He also lamented on how society treated minority groups such as the migrant workers, disabled and single mothers with less required human dignity and unequal opportunities.

At the end of the event, the participants were given an opportunity to find out more about the 3 issues during a cell-group like discussion breakout. During the discussions, the participants discussed the rights of these people and developed a wish list of policies and legislations to safeguard these rights.

The notes from these discussions will be released on the SWGA blog soon.

This event will be the first of many that the SWGA will use to create awareness about other issues that civil society groups in Singapore face. These include the elderly, children, mentally ill as well as people living with HIV and AIDS.

Despite our different interest and focus areas, as civil society, it is important for us to interact with each other and to build capacity. Only by creating greater awareness and mutual understanding, can we truly be empowered to work towards the betterment of society.

Singapore Working Group for ASEAN

We are a group of individuals and civil society organisations which aim to create a connected, compassionate and people-centered ASEAN community together with our partners in the region. Through a holistic approach covering the arts, research, inter disciplinary practice, public education and constructive consultation with the government and other stakeholders, we aim to create a common platform for cooperation on human rights, economic, social, cultural and environmental issues.

Updates on our activities can be found at http://swga.livejournal.com
Find us on Facebook by searching "Singaporeworkinggroup forAsean"

For more information:

Sinapan Samydorai
Chairperson & Focal Point
Singapore Working Group for ASEAN

Sources and Relevant Links:

05 December 2007: International Human Rights Day - Celebration [8th December, 2007}
This event is organized by The Singapore Working Group for ASEAN

3 November 2007: 3rd ASEAN+Civil Society Conference
The theme of this year's conference is 'Moving Forward: Building an ASEAN People's Agenda.' The conference aims to explore strategies to tackle the challenges arising from the adoption of the ASEAN Charter at the upcoming ASEAN Summit.

The Singapore Working Group for ASEAN (SWGA)believes the spirit of a people-centred ASEAN can only be achieved and sustained by upholding human rights principles and ensuring social justice.

16 October 2007: Interim Singapore Working Group gets a new mandate
With genuine mandate and larger ranks now, the interim SWG is set to make a difference and be the voice of ordinary Singaporeans at home and in ASEAN.

The consultation-workshop on the ASEAN Charter will discuss the role of civil society in economic, social and cultural development using the human rights framework.

1 October 2007: Formation of Singapore Working Group gathers steam
Most reconciled with the fact that the strategic mode of engaging stakeholders was one of constructive dialogue. After all, civil society did not exist in a vacuum and its advocacy work operated much within certain OB-markers.

21 September 2007: Interim Singapore Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism
The Singapore Working Group is progressing from Interim to Pro-tem Working Group and calls itself the Singapore Working Group for ASEAN

05 September 2007: Civil society kicks off ASEAN Charter involvement (belatedly)
25 August 2007, the Singapore Working Group for ASEAN organized an indoor forum on the theme "ASEAN Charter - What's in it for you & me?".

2nd December 2006: Report of the RoundTable Discussion on Establishing the Singapore Working Group
The Interim Singapore Working Group's primary objective is to support the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism to establishment an intergovernmental human rights mechanism in Southeast Asia

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