What young people can do to stop violence against women

by Ian Mak, Change Maker


youth change makers“The youth of today and the youth of tomorrow will be accorded an almost unequal opportunity for great accomplishment and human service.” – Dr Nicholas Murray


It is often tempting as a young person to discount our power to make change. We tend to ignore daunting social problems, believing that we do not have the ability to do anything about it. “Anyway,” we think, “adults can do it better.”


Wrong. Youth have tremendous potential and more importantly, the unique opportunity to make a significant difference in forwarding social causes. In the days of our youth is when many of our beliefs and worldviews are solidified. If we take the effort to question and rethink the social norms and practices around us, especially where they are problematic, we will be able to make a significant breakthrough in advancing social progress. This is because, through a critical enquiry of the traditions and cultural attitudes we grow up in, we discover new ways of being and doing things that can be better for social living.


This is particularly true in the case of violence against women. Over the years, violence against women in societies around the world hasn’t reduced – in fact, it has increased. Violence against women isn’t about a random nutter of a husband abusing his wife. It’s about outmoded concepts of masculinity. It’s about the normalisation of men using violence against women to retain and reproduce power. It’s about the silence from friends and family members who ensure that such violence goes unreported, and, therefore, excused. It is, fundamentally, about the social tolerance of women’s suffering.


We can do better than that. Every generation has the power to shape its own beliefs. We can do this by interrogating the past and reimagining the future. To start with, we need to examine existing social norms that allow violence against women to occur and go unreported.


One idea that really needs to be reconsidered is the prevailing notion of masculinity. Through redefining masculinity, we can change the attitude of men towards women and towards each other. We must know, and let other men know, that to be masculine is not to be violent and dominant over women or other men.


Social progress is often only made when people come together to take a stand. Think of Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement and of Gandhi’s civil disobedience against the British monopoly of the salt trade. Youth in Singapore and across the world making a commitment not to tolerate violence against women would send out a powerful message to everyone. It would tell people that society is moving forward and that we, this generation, will not excuse violence, will not accept inequality and oppression.


It is not going to be easy. Familial constructs across the world designate men as the head of the household, allowing for men to be considered as superior and more powerful. On the flip side, the same familial constructs prescribe that women should be submissive, subordinate, sacrificial and silent in the face of violence because it is their responsibility to keep the family together at all costs. As a result, women find it difficult to report violence, for fear of stigma and societal condemnation.


The youth can play a significant role in reshaping gender relations, starting with our own attitudes and the relationships in our lives. We can also act as change makers on the ground by interrupting a friend who makes a sexist joke or gently pointing out to a couple that their relationship is unequal. Most importantly, for young men, we can collectively redefine our view of masculinity as one that does not condone violence against women.


These actions may be small individually, but if everyone makes an effort, we can make real progress towards ending violence against women.



















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Trekking across Jordan for a good cause

Twelve women from non-profit ‘Women on a Mission’ will soon be on their way to the deserts of Jordan to raise awareness and funds for survivors of human trafficking and rape.

Women on a Mission, an official ally of the We Can! campaign, combines challenging expeditions with marketing campaigns and events to raise awareness and funds for a humanitarian cause by partnering with existing non-profit organisations around the world.

Last year, Women on a Mission raised $145,000 for victims of war through their campaign to the Everest Base Camp. This year the team hopes to raise $100,000 to support three non-profits: AWARE, UN Women, and Women for Women International.

The campaign will be kick off on 18 October with a fundraising event at The Polo Club of Singapore, featuring international adventurer and TED speaker Thaddeus Lawrence, a fashion show by Jordanian designer Asma Charles, and a special dance performance by The Jewelz. Details about the event are below. All funds will be donated to women victims of violence and war.

Event: 1001 Nights Under the Stars
Date: 18 October, Friday
Time: 7:00-10:00pm
Venue: Singapore Polo Club, 80 Mt. Pleasant Road
Ticket: $165
Please click here to support this campaign.

The team of 12 women from Singapore and Europe will embark on a 10-day trek on 3 November. A few spots are still open for the hike, so if you’re interested in joining the expedition, please contact [email protected].

By trekking in the Middle East, the team hopes to bring international attention to the need for societies, governments and corporations to get involved and help end violence against women, not just victims of war, but also victims of human trafficking and rape. Preparing for the trek they hope will change the lives of many, the team expresses their passion for the cause. “This reality can no longer be tolerated, in any form, in any context, and by anyone around the globe”.


Violence against women: Not just a women’s issue

men against violence against womenKen Lay, Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria, Australia, has made family violence his signature issue. In this speech, he talks about how we misapprehend the nature of family violence, making ourselves feel safer by seeing violence as an internal domestic issue and assigning complicity to victims.

There are many myths about domestic violence that we perpetuate – the victim must have incited the abuse, she is guilty of bad judgement, if a woman’s life was endangered, she would simply leave.

Ken Lay seeks to broaden people’s views on domestic violence – and to reach out to one group specifically.

“Men, I want you to consider why blokes are so quiet on these issues.”

The speaker calls for action, asking men to stand up against violence and discrimination. Placing family violence in a wider culture where vulgar and violent attitudes to women are common, he wants to see a change in attitude, making all indecency against women deeply shameful among men.

“I want you to consider what twisted sense of entitlement compels a man to grab a woman in a bar or call her a slut.”

Many activists around the world are trying to involve men and the larger community in something widely seen as a “women’s issue. The anti-sexist activist Jackson Katz, whose TED talk on violence against women went viral, emphasises the importance of collective change.

“The perpetrators aren’t monsters who crawl out of the swamp and come into town to perform their nasty deeds and then retreat into the darkness.” The violence is created in our society. Katz demands change, asking powerful men to set an example in building a violence-free community. Why?

“So that future generations won’t have the level of tragedy that we deal with on a daily basis.”


Things you didn’t know about sexual violence

[two_third]ActionAid Australia has created an infographic that illustrates the impact sexual violence has on the lives of girls and women in many different cultures. Sexual violence remains a widespread and persistent reality around the world. It is not confined to a few incidences, but can form the conditions of a woman’s entire lifetime.[/two_third]


Sexual Violence Against Women - The Hard Truths



Rape culture is our problem too

[two_third] In an article in The Kent Ridge Common, Sakunika Wewalaarachchi looks at the fixation that the world, including Singapore, had on the gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012. Part of this fixation was the tendency to characterise rape and misogyny as endemic to the Indian culture.

Protest against rape

In fact, women around the world only stand to suffer more when rape culture and misogyny are perceived as the product of conditions specific to a country – low levels of education, poverty, lack of economic development or modernisation, “backwardness” – and not as problems in themselves. Rape culture is not the inevitable result of these social conditions. Conversely, it is not true that having better social conditions means rape culture naturally dies out. This is a dangerous notion to have, because it breeds complacency and retards the progression of gender equality.

Rape culture does not arise from income and education levels, but from attitudes and beliefs that privilege male gratification at the expense of the freedom and security of women. Such attitudes and beliefs can be found anywhere and in every country, in a shack in a shanty town, as on the top floor of a glittery skyscraper. While rightly feeling outrage at incidences of rape that occur anywhere in the world, we must remember to look towards home, and not ignore the hornets’ nest in our own backyard. [/two_third]


“Just A Bad Day” shines a spotlight on a dark corner of society

[two_third] Our forum theatre piece, “Just A Bad Day”, has been staged before a number of audiences since its premiere in June. It has been garnering media attention for its spotlighting of an issue that has been kept in the wings for too long.

Forum theatre intervention

The Online Citizen applauded the “safe environment” that the forum theatre provides to members of the audience who intervene. It is heartening that men and women alike have been standing up to intervene during the performances. Knowingly or not, the audience is acting on two important ideas – that the solution is not confined to a single party in the conflict, and that bystanders also incur responsibility if they do not act despite perceiving the warning signs.

The forum theatre experience encourages and empowers people to make such interventions in real life, which is when the need really arises. Choosing to step into a matter that convention dictates is private and “none of your business” can be a daunting task. But indeed, from the personal stories of Change Makers involved in the play – which you can read here – all it takes is a bit more awareness and belief in your power to set change in motion.

The Inter Press Service cast “Just A Bad Day” and the We Can campaign against the apparent strides that women in Singapore have been making over the years. Singapore ranks 13th in a gender development index by the United Nations, ahead of countries like the US, UK, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. Women attain high levels of education and employment. But gender stereotypes and cultural discrimination persist in spite of the reality of women’s achievements. The double burden on women – as wives and mothers, and income earners – has also only been made heavier.

In the face of fear, indifference, convention, and stereotype, “Just A Bad Day” is planting the seeds of transformation in an original and effective way. Enthusiastic response means we have been attracting new opportunities to bring the forum theatre to even more communities around Singapore, so do check back soon for more! [/two_third]


Quen on “Just A Bad Day”


Quenyee Wong plays a grandmother in “Just A Bad Day”. Here is what she has to say about her experience as an actor and what it means to be a Change Maker of the We Can! campaign.

For me, it truly was a tall order. Here was an email asking people with full-time jobs and a life – well, we certainly hope so! – and maybe even a dog, to put months of their lives “on hold”, to be in a play. Really? Who does that? Once upon a long time ago, I too wanted to run away with the circus, but I’ve since quite adjusted to the demands of life today, thank you.

What did actually get me to sign up for the We Can! forum theatre workshop was, in fact, what the play was going to be about: violence against women. Something went “bing!” in my head. Women’s rights, human rights, the rights of the downtrodden and misunderstood have always been close to my heart. Over a great part of my life, I did identify with the downtrodden. And here was a chance to do something that took on these issues directly!

So two weeks later saw me walking into a room full of strangers of all ages and races, shapes and genders. You’d only see a more diverse group, well, at the circus. After the initial hellos and introductions, the amazing journey of forum theatre training began! Under the careful moulding of a veteran theatre practitioner named Li Xie, we started to open up and warm towards each other through different trust-building exercises. In one such exercise, we wandered with eyes closed within the confines of a room and, at the instruction of Li Xie, reached out to find a “hand buddy”. That is, we proceeded to feel the hand of the person we had partnered up with, perhaps even smelling it or rubbing it against our faces, so that we could “know it”, all the while with our eyes shut. Then, after mixing us all up again, we had to find our hand buddy purely by feeling dozens of “stranger hands”! What a weird thing to do, I thought, but guess what? Many of us did find our hand buddies, and experienced a most uncanny sense of connection with that person.

Forum theatre rehearsal
Change Makers in rehearsal

The artistic process was most liberating. Soon, this motley crew of volunteers migrated together from a place of shy, giggly awkwardness to a full-on, I-haven’t-even-shared-this-with-my-mom, safe circle of revelatory sharing! The day always ended with everyone coming together in a circle and sharing what we felt or had learnt. And the bare-bones honesty surprised us all! Here was a group of ordinary folk who had come together because we had witnessed or experienced unspeakable violence in our own lives, and now we were bonding over long-hidden secrets. Rape, peer pressure, gender discrimination – you name it, it figured in our individual experiences. It made you think, wow, violence really is just one or two degrees of separation away! In fact, if you were willing to look, you would see it happening in your own life as well.

These stories made their way into a piece of theatre that explored violence in both physical and non-physical forms, set in the everyday scenarios where we had first experienced them. Through a progressive series of exercises involving creating tableaux of actions, we pieced the action together and weaved a coherent whole. In a process called “hot seating”, we had questions posed to us as the character we played (for example, a woman who felt compelled to fulfil the roles of wife, mother and daughter-in-law to the highest degree) and we answered them in character. This helped us better understand the stakes involved and our character’s motivations and “buttons” – words or actions that would make them think twice or even change their behaviour. These were “buttons” that our audience members could “push” in order to trigger a different way of thinking or acting.

Quen in character
Quen in character, interacting with a member of the audience during a performance of “Just a Bad Day”.

All in all, the process of creating a forum theatre devised piece made each of us more aware of why protagonists in any particular situation make the decisions they do, which create or add to a cycle of action. We had all come with a certain set of ideas about the issues in violence, and through role-play and discussion, had discovered a lot of the “grey” in things we used to think of as pretty black-and-white. Taking on these issues didn’t sway our resolve. On the contrary, it imbued us with some wisdom: solutions are not cut and dry, and people have to arrive at their own solutions organically.

At the We Can! forum theatre workshop, we found our “therapy” – sharing our stories and putting them together in a theatre piece had, in effect, released us from their hold and re-purposed them for good. Now, it is time to take our process to the masses, to get them to share as well!

We named the play, “Just A Bad Day”, and recognised ourselves as “Change Makers”. Using everything we have learnt from the workshop, the “Just A Bad Day” Change Makers will take the play to Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-abled, multi-gendered, multi-affiliated communities over an entire year.

People need to feel empowered to say no, to pipe up when they would ordinarily have kept mum, to step in where they might have stepped aside before because they thought that violence was a private matter. But it isn’t. Just as you can step into the world of the forum theatre and do something differently, we want people to know that they can change the course of real life, and hopefully history, simply by acting on it.[/two_third]


Violence against women: bruises of a global shame exposed


violence is not our cultureThe first international study of the prevalence of physical and sexual assaults shows a third of women worldwide have suffered beatings or worse in their daily lives.

According to The National, Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said the findings needed to be taken seriously and they sent “a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions”.

It is the first time estimates have been released based on population data from such a wide spectrum of countries.

And even countries that did not supply data for the study needed to eliminate their tolerance for abuse of women and improve their methods of tackling it, the report says.

“The findings send a powerful message that violence against women is not a small problem that only occurs in some pockets of society, but is a global public health problem of epidemic proportions, requiring urgent action,” it states.


Violence takes it toll in many ways, the report shows. Women who experienced what it calls “intimate-partner violence” have higher rates of depression, HIV, injury and death, and are more likely to have babies with low birth weights than those who are free of violence.


This article has been edited on 5 July 2017.


Do you recognise abuse when you see it?

[two_third] This Is Abuse is a UK campaign that raises awareness among youth about the issues of relationship abuse. It looks at the forms abuse can take including non-violent forms which are often not recognised as abusive.

The campaign includes lots of videos depicting situations of abuse in order to bring focus to these behaviours.

The aim of the campaign is to prevent teenagers and young adults from becoming victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse.

The website points out that: ‘Abuse is not normal and never OK. -“If you are in a relationship with someone, you should feel loved, safe, respected and free to be yourself.

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[two_third] Spot the Signs
The site is full of great resource to encourage open and honest conversation about the nature of abuse and healthy relationships.


In a healthy relationship both partners treat each other with respect. Answer the following questions honestly to work out if your partner treats you with the respect you deserve.

Your partner:

  • Is willing to compromise
  • Lets you feel comfortable being yourself
  • Is able to admit to being wrong
  • Is not jealous or possessive
  • Does not try to control what you wear, where you go or what you do
  • Does not physically hurt you
  • Does not emotionally hurt you (by calling you names, threatening you, making you feel bad)
  • Tries to resolve arguments and conflict by talking honestly
  • Enables you to feel safe being with them
  • Respects your feelings, your opinions and your friends
  • Accepts you saying no to things you don’t want to do (like sex)
  • Accepts you changing your mind
  • Respects your wishes if you want to end the relationship



10 ways men can prevent gender-based violence

This is part of an article that originally appeared in Feminist Wire on May 15, 2013 – by Sacchi Patel



  1. Communicate. One of our largest problems is that we do not talk. No one is a mind-reader. If we talk with our partners, we can understand each other’s wishes, thoughts, and desires. Consent should never be assumed.
  2. Educate Yourself. There is lot of information on Domestic Violence that we ought to learn and understand. “1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime,” “1.3 million women are physically assaulted each year in the US,” and “every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted” are all undeniable statistics, and need acknowledgement and continuing press coverage.
  3. Contribute. We ought to give our time, thoughts, and even monetary donations to helping stop all forms of violence against women. Assistance is always needed, and there are many ways for us to get involved and support the cause.
  4. Support Victims/Survivors. We can be there for those who have been victimized by domestic violence or sexual assault. This might mean driving someone to the hospital, accompanying a victim to court or the police station, or even just sitting and listening to the survivor.
  5. Organize. As men, we can create or join a movement against DV.
  6. Act. Rather than watch abuse happen, we can take a more proactive role and become empowered bystanders. This means standing up, speaking out, intervening in potentially harmful situations, or alerting others for assistance. There is always something we can do.
  7. Choose Words Thoughtfully. We must understand the impact of our language and the words that we use. Using words like bitch, ho, and slut to describe women makes it easy for our whole society to view women as inferior.
  8. Talk with/listen to Women. Women have spoken out for decades, trying to spread awareness. It is time to have those conversations with women and learn their thoughts about living with threats of violence on a daily basis. We can also find out ways that we can support women best.
  9. Talk with Men. We can engage in dialogue with other men about how domestic violence has impacted their lives. We can explore feelings and the costs of being regarded as potential perpetrators of violence, while learning how to best support male-identifying survivors. Talking with other men will also allow a space to discuss ideas on how to challenge and stand up against domestic violence.
  10. Lead by Example. Never disregard, excuse, commit, or remain silent about any violence, and particularly that against women and girls. We can be role models for other men and boys in our communities. We can teach our children to be respectful and never abusive toward women. We can be good fathers and equal partners in our relationships.

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