Fellow: Chie Michihiro
Fellowship Site: Association of Women for Action & Research (Aware), Singapore
Brief History of Organization (founding and salient steps):
Aware was founded after a public seminar entitled “Women’s Choices, Women’s Lives.” It was registered as a nongovernmental organization in 1985, marking the 20th anniversary in 2005. It is the first and still remains the only feminist advocacy group in Singapore. It is a 500-member organization run by a volunteer executive committee (board) and four paid staff. Their mission is to promote gender equity for all through support, research, and advocacy. They have raised awareness on violence against women since the beginning. In 1995, NMP (Nominated Member of the Parliament) Kanwaljit Soin, who had been the president of Aware and had been nominated to the Parliament by Aware, moved her family violence bill. The bill was defeated, but was incorporated into the existing “Women’s Charter” next year. Their other projects include financial independence, women and media, the population policies, sex trafficking, single women, and many more. They have a volunteer-run helpline and legal clinic for women, and offer counseling and various workshops/training. They also have a library and publish a journal called Awareness.
Departments/Programs in the Organization:
I was supervised by the Chair of Women & Safety Subcommittee.
Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks undertaken by the Fellow:
I was to collect and compile data on violence against women and children in Singapore, such as the nature of incidents and profiles of victims and perpetrators, from the newspaper articles, during 2000 and 2003. The result will go onto their website and will be used to determine the target of lobbying and public education.
I finished collecting data, amounting to about 1000 victims and 800 perpetrators. I helped prepare a document for their joint campaign with the Body Shop, “Stop Violence in the Home.” I participated in a meeting for the public education (postcards/billboards advertisement) campaign to brainstorm about violence against women.
As I was trained more on analyzing data rather than collecting, the project was challenging. It took me much more time to collect the data than I had anticipated.
I attended the following events, workshops, and public forums during my fellowship:
- Women in Singapore in the 21st Century (public forum, organized by the Young People’s Action Party)
- Center visit by the Deputy Director General of Technical Affairs from the Ministry of Women’s and Veteran’s Affairs in Cambodia
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) shadow/alternative reporting workshop
- “Beyond Babies: National Duty or Personal Choice?,” Aware’s public forum on the population policies and its press release
- “Break the Bond” Aware’s public forum on sex trafficking
- Aware’s monthly executive committee meetings
Other projects/works started or completed:
-As I could not finish compiling the data I collected, I am continuing the project as an independent study in Minnesota, so that I can take advantages of the resources at my university.
-I helped with the administrative staff once in a while when needed, including making a list of the projects of the past interns.
How has this fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?
I learned a lot by working with women from different cultures at a feminist organization, which I had expected and hoped to do.
How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the
It has remained the same. This fellowship helped me to really understand how my academic work would be useful in this field and motivated me further to go back to school in the fall. It reinforced my belief that only good will and good people is not enough—we need good research and management too.
Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?
I was stationed at the Aware center and worked with the staff daily, thus they had the greatest effect on me. Also, many women I met during my stay were inspiring to me.
How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/
international human rights organization?
It was a wonderful opportunity to see how diverse yet similar “Asian” culture is—each culture has similarities and differences. Singapore has three major ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay, and India) and Aware is trying to reach out to the people across racial, cultural, and social lines. It also helped me realize how Japan (my mother country) and the United States are perceived in other cultures. I realized that there are lots of smaller countries that are affected by larger ones—I thought I was from a small country but it was in fact a large country with more human capital, economic and political power. When you are in a larger, wealthy country, you tend to think that it is the way it is…but in fact there may be more people who live in “smaller” countries that are often ignored in the world politics.
What quote would captivate “a moment” that you had during your fellowship?
“We are not in European or Scandinavian countries or the United States. We are Asian country. We need to think how to achieve our goals in our Asian context.”
“We need to make smart noise (to advocate and lobby).” “How do we make noise? We cannot just sit down in front of the Parliament until all the pregnant mothers get jobs. So the research is important.”
“Feminists burn bras, right?” (I heard this remark twice during my stay!)
After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship
experience back home to your local community?
I look for public speaking opportunities in Twin Cities and other Upper Midwest areas. I will start with my fellow students at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and University of Minnesota—I will make a brief presentation on my experience at the information session for international feminist internship seekers in October 2004. I am on the International Women’s Day committee, and would like to apply my experiences and increased knowledge (on the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing and CEDAW, for instance) to it, and to outreach to wider audience. I am a registered classroom speaking volunteer for the Minnesota International Center, which coordinates to bring international speakers into K-12 classrooms. I will work with them and look for opportunities to speak about women’s human rights issues, CEDAW, and the International Women’s Day. I will make arrangements to speak as a guest speaker in classrooms at University of Wisconsin-Superior, where I spent my junior year of undergraduate education in 2000-2001. I will contact with Women’s Studies, Social Work, Political Science, and Sociology programs there.
I am also looking for volunteer opportunities at a local non-profit organization that deals with violence against women in Twin Cities. I would like to share my experiences in Singapore with activists in my communities in Twin Cities, as well as learn from and contribute to the organization.
Full Name of Organization: Association of Women for Action & Research
Abbreviation and initials commonly used: Aware
Organizational Address: Blk 5 Dover Crescent #01-22, Singapore 130005
Telephone number: +65-6779-7137
Fax number: +65-6777-0318
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff:
During my fellowship, the position of Centre Director was vacant. They were discussing hiring a new director. The president, who chairs the executive committee, makes a final decision on many things, including interns. The president is elected and has the term of two years.
Number of Employed Staff (full-time; part-time):
2 full-time and 2 part-time staff
Number of Volunteers: 100 (500-member organization)
Objectives of the Organization:
Promote gender equity for all in Singapore, with focus on support, research, and advocacy.
Domestic/International Programs: Works at the national level in Singapore.
Date of Information: September 24, 2004
Information Supplied by: Chie Michihiro
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