Breaking Out of the Gender Mould

by Meera Sachdeva, Change Maker

Gender roles are social norms individuals of each gender are expected to abide by. For example, in many societies, men are expected to be breadwinners while women are expected to stay at home and take care of the family.

The problem with gender roles is that they inherently punish people who deviate from the norm. They may only cease to exist if enough people break out of them but until the social stigma is removed, this will remain a challenge.

Another issue with fixed gender roles is the perpetuation of gender stereotypes that men dominate and women are subservient. These seemingly small issues escalate to serious problems like sexual violence. Tackling these problems requires attacking the root of the problem: gender roles.

bebin-woman_1678837i (1)Women in the Military

We spoke to 25-year-old Sumita who joined the military as a full-time officer at the age of 21. Sumita was inspired to follow this path by her uncle, who has served in the army for over three decades. In her experience, military training is equally challenging for men and women, and more women should contribute to the defence sector.

She shared, “Being in the army is really different from what women in Singapore think it’s like. It’s a completely different world. Yes, it’s mostly men, but they’re are just as afraid of what’s going on as you are.”

Sumita also debunked the misconception that men are automatically more suited to military life by sheer physical strength. “There are different ways to contribute in the army. Medics are equally important as those fighting on the field. The guys in my generation are a lot more willing to accept women as soldiers.”

Screen-Shot-2013-06-26-at-11.09.56-AM-1024x573Women in Construction

We also spoke to Sylvia, a mother of three who shared her experience in the construction industry. Getting her foot in the door was a challenge, but Sylvia was determined to get hands-on experience in the field.

“My boss who had a small construction company needed a project team and I came in handy because I’d studied building. You’re working with mostly men; no boss would take the risk to see whether a woman can “survive”. If it weren’t for my boss it would be tough to get into that kind of job.”

Sylvia’s husband is equally supportive of her choices. “He never once suggested that I stop working….and whenever I have to work longer hours, my husband would take care of the kids.”

Her advice to women trying to break into a male-dominated industry? “It’s about who you are, your ability, your passion, being good at what you do and having the attitude required to learn in order to excel. Don’t let your gender stop you from doing what you want.”

23GRAY-articleLargeStay At Home Fathers

Thien Yew, a father of two, chose to be a stay-at-home father from 2001-2008 while his wife became the primary breadwinner. They decided it would be beneficial to have a parent at home since their younger son was just entering secondary school.

“Those years that I spent with my sons were a wonderful takeaway. All of us benefitted from the arrangement. On one hand, I was able to understand their lives in school, what they go through, their friends, and the teachers they interact with. On the other, they were happy to have a chauffeur and some company after school!”

Thien Yew opined, in response to an AWARE survey that showed 57% of men aged 18-29 believe that men should be the head of the household, that, “Singapore has progressed to a stage where women are generally accepted as capable and competent in their careers. The problem lies in traditional mindsets, but that’s changing. Women of the younger generation are keen to have their own equally successful careers.” However, he acknowledged that gender inequality in the workplace is still vast.

Thien Yew also shared that stay-at-home fathers are increasingly common and there needs to be open communication between couples to determine the values both parties mutually want to uphold.

Evidently, Singaporeans are able to treat people not conforming to gender roles without judgement or discrimination. Why, then, aren’t more people breaking out?

It’s because gender moulds are deeply entrenched in societal mindsets that any alternative is rarely considered. If children are thrust into their roles since birth, it’s substantially harder to break free.

Moreover, breaking gender roles is not solely a women’s issue. Without them, men are able to spend more time with their kids, with less pressure as a breadwinner, while women are able to pursue fulfilling careers they want.

If breaking out of the gender mould benefits everyone and is clearly the way forward, why is it taking us so long to get there?

About the Author:
Meermeeraa is a Grade 12 student at United World College. She enjoys debating, playing the guitar and drums and playing tennis with her sisters. In her spare time, she also likes writing about issues she is passionate about and believes strongly in encouraging empathy to fix entrenched problems like gender inequality. She is interested in Politics and Economics and how these fields can be used to better the lives of disadvantaged people.


Fat Woman

by Manessa Lian, Change Maker and Body/Language creative writing workshop participant. This piece was performed at the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2014 and Breakthrough: We Can! Arts Fest in December 2014. 

When I was a child
I first learnt that bigger was not always better
Because those were the days
They sent the biggest kids for classes
Extra classes after school
Which should have been fun
Because we actually got to roller-blade
But because everyone knew who those classes were for
Nobody wanted in
We held our breaths
Our Physical Ed teacher
Scanned the class for those whose sizes did not conform
Singling them out with a crook of the finger
I was one of them

When I protested for being one of the chosen ones
The PE teacher turned to the class
And duly informed them that I was a time-bomb
A walking health time-bomb
I would drop dead any moment
From a heart attack or a stroke
All because I refused to attend the extra class
I went, of course reluctantly
Walked away without getting any smaller
Except for my self-esteem
I learnt little about roller-blading
Mainly how to fall safely on my butt
And I had the honour
Of having the cracks in the courtyard attributed to my name
It was the year we learnt about Hiroshima and Nagasaki
So I had a new nickname: Fat Woman

Eventually I left school
But I realised I never truly left school
The mocking eyes of the classmate who felt entitled to take my sandwich
Turned into those of the waiter
Who judged what I chose to order
That was why I chose to buy my clothes online
Because when I cannot be seen or heard
I cannot be judged
But I have always wondered
Why the need to pay more for a few more inches of fabric?
What was normal, what was plus-sized?
Maybe it was just like my high school friends
They insisted I pay more for our shared lunches
Because who would believe someone of my size didn’t eat more than they did

So I worked hard
So that I could pay
For the right to dress up and be beautiful
For my lunch appointments with the same high school friends
Even if all they talked about were the people
That they had the freedom to love
Not for me
I learnt the freedom to love was never for me
Many people would love to have a fat friend
Because it would make them look thinner
And because it’s hip in this era to say
“I don’t fat-shame!”
As long, as I stayed platonic
But when I forgot my place
I turned into a terrifying Godzilla
Striking horror into the hearts of the innocent
“Shameless! Get away from me, FAT bitch!”
When all I wanted to do
Was to love them
Some people’s love is less equal than others
Especially when you have a nickname like Fat Woman

My nickname is Fat Woman
But unlike Fat Man
I was taught never to explode
And incinerate all those who have ever hurt me
Instead I am expected to implode
Killing myself from within
But there are other ways of dealing with bombs, isn’t it?
I fought hard
To exorcise the demons that others had planted onto me
Sometimes in the depth of the night
I would recall the things I did not want to
Reopening all the wounds that nobody could see
Inflicted yesterday on this body of mine
But when dawn comes
I defuse myself.

About the Author: Manessa Lian writes because she loves, and because she loves, she writes. Through her writing, she hopes to get people thinking and talking about various social issues simmering below the surface.



My Experience at the Body/Language Programme

by Kelvin Ng Jiawin, Change Maker and participant at Body/Language creative writing workshop

photo (1)I joined Body/Language, a creative writing workshop developed by EtiquetteSG and We Can! Singapore, for a simple reason: it combined writing and feminism, two of my favourite things. Needless to say, my expectations for the workshop were high. What I did not expect, however, was how much I gained from the workshop in return — besides affording me a creative platform to express my personal experiences with gender issues, the workshop prompted me to reevaluate my own conception of gender-based violence.

A wide range of topics were covered throughout the four sessions, as my fellow participants and I discussed issues of beauty standards, religion, gender stereotypes as well as institutional sexism. Manessa Lian, a public workshop participant, says, “It was an empowering experience, to be able to use poetry to talk about things that otherwise are rarely voiced out.”

Despite being the only (cisgender) male in the workshop, I never once felt left out, not only because I was able to share my own experiences with deviating from gendered ideals, something I’ve never been able to do comfortably in a mainstream setting, but also because I truly learned a great deal about how issues usually thought of as trivial, such as daily microaggressions, can realistically perpetuate more harm than we’d like to think.

1523098_871894242845508_7416063464966567862_oThe facilitators of my workshop, Nurul and Anne, were nothing short of stellar. They were simultaneously professional and personal throughout the four sessions, and succeeded in fostering an atmosphere comfortable enough for everyone to share their honest opinions. I particularly liked the ground rules democratically established on the first day, initiated by Anne; it provided a useful framework for our later discourse and ensured that no boundaries were transgressed.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this way; Sahar Pirzada, a fellow GEC workshop participant, says, ”The environment created by the facilitators of the course was one of warmth, support and trust. I felt safe to put my unique voice out there without fear of judgement from the facilitators or my peers. The positive support I received from the participants in my cohort of Body/Language encouraged me to perform at SWF.”

Knowing that it would be the first time performing a spoken word piece for most of us, Nurul also helpfully shared a few spoken word videos so we’d have a better idea of the techniques and forms that could undergird our works. At the same time, however, it was emphasised that we didn’t have to confine ourselves to any format or structure, and encouraged us to express ourselves in the most comfortable way, however informal or unstructured. Anung D’Lizta, a HOME workshop participant, opined that, “A lot of our feelings can’t be talked about, but it can be shared through our writing.”

10856490_871893199512279_6637369888932692318_oAs we began producing our works in one of the later sessions, the facilitators would go beyond providing helpful technical advice — they’d also initiate a conversation with us to understand where we were coming from, and why we wrote what we did. It was all done in a respectful, understanding manner, and other than providing a catharsis of sorts, both facilitators also shared really germane advice on our personal issues. Throughout the workshop, there was a significant amount of time devoted to conversing with each participant personally, yet in the end, no one was left out and everyone was catered to.

My facilitator, Nurul, shares, “It’s a beautifully designed workshop program that enables participants to tap into their inner writing warriors, most of which is driven by personal experiences that they have never or yet to articulate. It was evident that for most of the participants, it became a cathartic outlet to express themselves, not just through words, but through poetry, which allowed for a more creative and powerful resolution. The workshops also presented many participants the opportunity to discuss issues on a wider scale, having come with different perspectives on different issues.”

I had mixed feelings about sharing and performing my piece in front of the class during the last session — I was undeniably excited to let an audience hear it, yet there was an inevitable sense of anxiety and self-doubt. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to share it with, for everyone was immensely supportive and encouraging. Constructive feedback was provided in a very respectful manner for every participant’s work, and I really enjoyed listening to all the pieces written by my fellow creative minds! I left the workshop not merely with a poem I’m proud of, but with so much more — a better understanding of the different dimensions to gender violence, a stronger mastery of poetry-writing techniques and above all, a group of really kickass feminist friends.

pic1About the Author: Kelvin Ng is a debater by training and part-time poet. His biggest accomplishment is remembering all the lyrics to Beyonce’s ***Flawless — both the original one and the Nicki Minaj remix — so that must mean something.


Breakthrough: WCAF 2014 – Making art, building community


“They said… But I…” was the caption accompanying each of these photos, prompting individuals to speak up about their own stories of breaking free from stereotypes

The second We Can! Arts Fest, Breakthrough, put together by volunteer Change Makers, looked at the gender-based issues that affect youth. In celebration of diversity and an inclusive youth culture, this much-anticipated event attracted over 200 attendees. The audience, largely made up of youngsters, were treated to an array of activities including interactive installations and booths, performances put up by talented youth artists as well as a series of workshops and discussion panels. Most of the artists, panelists, performers and volunteers were youth, and this was a space for them to speak up about their experiences and have their views heard.

Taking place at Singapore Management University, the event had a casual, upbeat and positive vibe. Whether it was art, music, dance, theatre or personal sharings, every segment was thought-provoking, creative and engaging.


One interactive installation, the Breakthrough board, was designed and built to tie in with the event’s slogan. Participants were encouraged to write media-inflicted body stereotypes they wished to break free from on balloons before throwing them against the board of nails and “bursting” the expectation, so to speak.


Other activities at Breakthrough: T-shirt stenciling, Stepping Stones installation, Handprints Against Violence and Pretty Ugly.

Other booths at the event included T-shirt stencilling with empowering slogans like “I’m a size awesome”, a photo booth linked to our newly launched Instagram page and an installation marked with colourful handprints and individual pledges against gender-based violence. The Stepping Stones installation invited attendees to build a path to a gender-equal society through writing or drawing their ideas for positive change on pebbles and adding them to the growing collection. The University Lounge was bustling with activities and spirits were high.

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There were also performances specially produced and staged for this event by youth, including a queer feminist band from Kuala Lumpur, Shh…Diam!, an applied theatre collective, Shoes Theatre as well as dance performances by Change Makers from UWC Tampines’ campus group, Because I’m A Girl. One of the highlights was a spoken word performance by participants of Body/Language, a creative writing workshop series run by We Can! and Etiquette SG over the last few months. Another high point was the multimedia performance + installation put up by Interrobang, a group of mainly 16 year-olds who wanted to show how daily microaggressions contributed to a culture of violence. The different pieces by the youth groups explored important topics like masculinity, bullying, dating violence and slut shaming.

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Alongside art and performance, Breakthrough also saw various sharing sessions, panel discussions and workshops put together by youth. The morning workshops empowered participants to use writing to recreate their worlds in gender-equal ways. The afternoon sessions aimed to create safe spaces where young people could freely express their thoughts and views about the issues that affect them. Some of the issues discussed were body image, beauty standards and eating disorders; gender identity and sexual orientation; and the representation of women and girls in local horror stories. Participants also had the opportunity to watch local films and discuss the marginalisation of sex workers and trans* people in Singapore. In the Human Library segment, they heard from a genderqueer person about the need to rethink the gender binary, discussed misogyny in the army, listened to the experiences of young domestic workers in Singapore and took in the account of a dating violence survivor. We believe that by encouraging young people to speak up and listen to each other, we can create a more reflective, thinking, and empathetic community of youth who are sensitised to issues that affect their peers and are willing to take action for positive change.

Breakthrough was a heartwarming event that raised important issues through inviting youth to share art, build community and find solidarity in each other’s experiences and struggles.

Check out the Photo Gallery for Breakthrough here!



by Kelvin Ng Jiawin, Change Maker and Body/Language creative writing workshop participant. This piece was performed at the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2014. 

Dear 12-year-old Kelvin,

You are more than a simple three-digit test score, so
Don’t quantify your existence as a numerical term,
Don’t reduce yourself to a statistic that says nothing about you,
And don’t force yourself to see your image in white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight men;
Also, you’ll learn how to say “fuck you”
In a B-grade horror movie starring a white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight man;
But it’ll take you much longer to learn
How to say “fuck you” judiciously.

Dear 13-year-old Kelvin,
You came from an all boys primary school
Masquerading as a missionary boarding school with its fancy art deco facade,
And this may seem like a major revelation to you, but:
Men are not from Mars, they’re from Planet Earth;
Women are not from Venus, they’re from Planet Earth;
So stop trying to be a pseudo-Martian and just, you know, be yourself.

Dear 14-year-old Kelvin,
Just because everyone around you has a girlfriend,
Doesn’t mean you have to have one.
Take some time off, and get to know both herself and yourself better.
Also, banish the word “friendzone” from your vocabulary;
Expel it, exile it, extradite it altogether,
Because friendship should never be an insult.

Dear 15-year-old Kelvin,
You catch yourself stealing glances at the James Franco-lookalike in class,
And you catch yourself playing Born This Way on repeat a little too much;
Now repeat after me:
One: That is entirely normal,
Two: That doesn’t say anything about masculinity;
And three: What is masculinity, anyway?

Dear 16-year-old Kelvin,
You don’t have to take an all-science course just because you’re male,
You don’t have to force yourself into a sport you hate just because you’re male,
You don’t have to install DOTA2 on your laptop to get street cred just because you’re male.
I wish I could go all Butler on you — and read her, you’ll love her —
You literally don’t have to do anything just because you’re male.
(By the way, yes, I mean literally — check your privilege.)

Dear 17-year-old Kelvin,
You know what people say? That eating disorders are for girls only?
You’ll learn how insidious that twisted illusion is,
You’ll realise that there’s no point starving yourself and tasting the acidic tinge of your bile every recess,
You’ll discover that there’s so much more to life than trying to look like the Abercrombie and Fitch model gazing down at you, disapprovingly, when all you’re trying to do
Is to get to Kinokuniya across the street.
You learned the word “fuck” five years ago, now say:
Fuck body standards, fuck anyone who thinks you’re too fat, fuck anyone who thinks you’re too thin.

Dear 18-year-old Kelvin,
You just watched Boyhood,
And you can’t help but feel slightly alienated;
But remember:
You don’t have to see your image in a white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight man.

19-year-old Kelvin.

pic1About the Author: Kelvin Ng is a debater by training and part-time poet. His biggest accomplishment is remembering all the lyrics to Beyonce’s ***Flawless — both the original one and the Nicki Minaj remix — so that must mean something.


Stop Sexist Behaviour Online

by Delia Toh, Change Maker

Halloween has just passed. I actually considered going to a party as an Internet troll just for laughs (my costume would be a cardboard face mask to symbolise anonymity and a neon jacket to symbolise obnoxiousness). However, it is slightly discouraging that Internet trolls are not merely fantasy or a source of harmless entertainment like our beloved Halloween character, the Frankenstein’s monster. Internet trolls are very real and they are everywhere. Anyone active on online spaces can attest to that.

it_photo_108658Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow people to hide behind the cloak of anonymity without being accountable for their actions. Furthermore, increasingly complicated privacy settings make it more difficult for users to control access to their personal information. Women in particular bear the brunt of cyber harassment that sometimes borders on outright cruelty. Famous blogger Xiaxue encountered her fair share of online trolls who called her degrading names for sharing her thoughts on politics in 2012 (but we’ve got to love that she gave the online misogynists a taste of their own medicine).

There are many ways the Internet can make a woman fear for her own safety. Women might have experienced one or more of the following online:

  1. Rape and/or death threats after sharing her opinion online.
  2. Being cyber stalked by people who abuse their personal information in order to harass them. This could also be in the form of persistent unwelcome comments and messages on social media.
  3. Having their Facebook or Instagram photographs stolen and used for malicious purposes.
  4. Find themselves the target of a group of online trolls who rallied against them. These groups work together to write nasty comments that are usually of a sexual nature, including and not limited to their appearance or desirability to men.

cyber-bully-3-finalCyber harassment affects many internet users today, but women in particular are targeted simply for the fact that they are women. It targets their very personhood – either for the purposes of sexual objectification or humiliation. This is not only disrespectful but damaging to the victim’s emotional and physical health.

As much as we value the freedom of speech, we cannot allow it if people do not practise responsibility of speech as well. A good way to start would be to educate people on sensitivity and respecting boundaries. In a world where sexism, racism and other forms of bigotry are very much rampant, we can take positive steps with our actions and words online. Calling out rude, hostile and bullying behaviour towards women online definitely sends a powerful message that women deserve a safe and respectful environment.

deliaAbout the author: Delia is a second year Chemical Engineering undergraduate at University College London. She has enjoyed blogging since her secondary school days. She would now like to move on from raving about school work to raising awareness through her writing. She strongly believes people are more different than similar, and that individuals ought to be valued for who they are inside.


Breakthrough: The Programme



Oh The Places You’ll Go…
11AM – 12.30PM  |  Function Room
Creative Writing workshop

A creative writing, creative thinking workshop based on the Dr. Seuss short story “Oh the places you’ll go”: a story about falling down and getting back up again, following your dreams and in the process discovering things you never thought possible. This workshop is designed to stimulate stories of personal discovery, of healing and of positive change and progression. It will explore the different ways of writing to create verse, prose and short stories. We will use these and combining techniques from the writing of Dr. Seuss; Repetition, patterns and positivity, to make our own unique stories of the places we’ll go. Facilitated by Jeni-Louise.

“Rescuing” Princesses & Pontianaks
11AM – 1.30PM  |  University Lounge
Creative Writing Workshop

Myths, folk-tales and stories impact who we are and how we behave​ ​as a society. In this workshop we will discuss and analyze some popular​ ​tales from different cultures, and invite you to re-write a story of your choice in a gender​ ​balanced way. Come be part of the conversation on how to create​ ​stories that positively influence the next generation. Facilitated by Raksha Mahtani and Radhika Pandya.


Human Library
12.45PM – 2.15PM  |  Function Room

At the Human Library, attendees will have the opportunity to hear stories and have conversations with participants who will be sharing their personal experiences of gender-based violence and marginalisation as young people in Singapore. Many of these stories, like surviving dating violence as a teenager, battling misogyny in the army, being a domestic worker at fifteen and navigating Singapore society as a genderqueer person, often go unseen and unheard. Participants will also be sharing their ideas for ways forward and the role that you can play in making change. Through this event, we hope to encourage empathy for different struggles and lived experiences, and build community support around specific issues that youth care about. Register at the door.

Body Image: Privilege, Shame, Autonomy
2.30PM – 3.30PM  |  Function Room

This panel aims to create a safe space for youth to discuss and brainstorm solutions to address harmful societal discourses on body image and its associated violences (such as bullying, misogyny, racism) and harmful practices (such as disordered eating). The panel will feature four engaging speakers sharing a range of academic, theoretical and personal perspectives on these issues. Register at the door.

Featured Speakers: Teng Qian Xi, Sangeetha Thanapal, Chua Sing Rue, Sudev Suthendran

Reel Stories
3.45PM – 5PM  |  Function Room
Film Screening and Discussion

We will be screening two short films by local filmmakers, “Kristy” and “Unheard Voices of the Red Light District”. The following discussion will extract and examine the issues the films unravel, their real-life implications and  how we can respond to them so as to bring positive change. The discussion will be facilitated by Vanessa Ho, the coordinator of Project X, a social initiative advocating sex workers’ rights in Singapore, and Marcia Ong, director and cinematographer of Kristy. The session will be moderated by Alex Tan, a youth Change Maker.

Unheard Voices of the Red Light District is a film that brings us deeper into the lives of Singaporean sex workers. Volunteers from Project X gathered interviews from 11 sex workers and together with artists Dixie Chan and Felicia Low, have created a film that hopes to raise awareness on issues faced by Singaporean sex workers in Singapore.

Kristy is a film about an 8-year old tomboy who loves to wear her favourite t-shirt. Her mother, however, would prefer her in dresses. The two go head-to-head in this touching tale of individuality, identity, and independence.

Death Wears A Dress
6PM – 7PM  |  Function Room

How do traditional gender roles play a part in the how women are imagined in the realms of horror and myth? How are these imaginings premised upon everyday assumptions regarding a woman’s place in society? Death Wears a Dress is a panel discussion put together by We Can! Singapore and EtiquetteSG, comprising writers and academics interested in the intersections of gender, culture, myth and monstrosity.

Featured Speakers: Nurul H., Ad Maulod and Zarina Muhammad. // Moderated by Tania De Rozario


Boys Will Be Boys
2PM – 3.15PM |  University Lounge
Interactive theatre

Boys Will Be Boys is a Theatre-in-Education programe, scripted in the overlooked male perspective. It portrays commonly seen gender stereotypes and their effects on individuals. It is designed to explore how the pressure on boys and men to be masculine in certain ways can impact violence against women and other men. The piece intends to empower men and boys to challenge and break this cycle. Shoes Theatre is an applied theatre collective formed in 2014. Focusing on the participatory nature of drama, its programmes focus on local issues, in hopes to impact a positive change.

Reflection Affection
3.30PM – 4PM |  University Lounge
Dance performance
This dance, curated by youth Change Makers from Because I’m A Girl, a campus group from UWC East, communicates the struggles girls face everyday regarding their body image. It explores complex themes such anorexia, peer pressure and the importance of self acceptance. 

Till Death Sets Us Apart
1.30PM and 5PM |  University Lounge
Dance performance 

Margueritte Vermersch is a 15-year-old dancer who has been dancing for 8 years. She will be performing a piece titled Till Death Sets Us Apart, about a young girl who is going through abuse at the hands of someone close to her, and how she decides to let go. She believes that sending a message of passion is the best way to make the audience feel what the artist is saying.

Who Am I?
4.30PM – 5PM |  University Lounge
Dance performance

This dance piece, titled Who Am I?, will be performed by 12 Contemporary dancers, all students at United World College (East Campus), using movements, speech and visuals exploring the idea of gender stereotypes and bullying. The dancers portray various ‘accepted’ gender roles as well as roles that are frowned upon thus evoking internal conflict and pressure within themselves. The dancers take you on their journey through solos, duets and group work and leaves the audience questioning the actions and words of society.

Missed Connections Performance
5.15PM – 5.45PM  |  Function Room
Mixed Media Performance

Interrobang’s performance aims to explore the relationship between the sights, sounds and words of gender-based violence. Through an experimental fusion of sonic art, film and spoken word, this performance intends to challenge the status quo, and microaggressions which are so deeply concealed in our everyday lives that we are oftentimes unaware of their existence and how they contribute to gender-based violence.

5.45PM and 8PM |  University Lounge
Live Music

Shh…Diam! is a queer feminist band from Kuala Lumpur and consists of Yon on guitar, Farah/Faris on guitar and vocals, Yoyo on bass and Jellene on drums. They aren’t athletes. Established since 2009, they plan to expand into a line of bespoke clothing that speaks the language of the soul. Until then, you can buy their t-shirts. Check them out at

7PM – 8.15PM |  University Lounge
Spoken word performance

Body/Language was a series of creative writing workshops co-developed by WE CAN Singapore and Etiquette SG for the Singapore Writers Festival. The workshops aimed to engage participants in an effort to unpick prevailing notions of gender and to uncover experiences and stories of their own bodies through poetry. This presentation will showcase some of the work developed by workshop participants, who come from diverse backgrounds, as well as spoken word pieces by talented youth Change Makers who have written especially for Breakthrough, Hannah Bedford, and Ananya Sood.


Pretty Ugly
3.30PM and 5PM  |  University Lounge, Studio Room 1
Interactive Performance Art

Society’s unending preoccupation with women’s physical beauty has serious consequences on women’s health, body image and morale. Impossible standards of beauty inflicted by the media, culture and society are a form of everyday violence that women and girls have to grapple with. Explore conventional ideas of beauty through this performance art piece where two artistes give you the unusual opportunity to “beautify” and “uglify” them with the items presented. Each performance will last 20 minutes. Audience members are invited to use the products available on the artistes, who present as a canvas for your expression.

Stepping Stones
Ongoing  |  University Lounge
Interactive Installation

Build a growing installation using pebbles and words to create a path towards a society free of gender inequality, oppression and violence. The stepping stones to change can be written or drawn on, signed or anonymous. Put down words or images that represent positive change, better alternatives, moments of growth, new perspectives and experiences of healing that may have happened in your life of someone else’s. The Path is made stronger with every stone added.

When Bellies Speak
2.15PM and 5PM  |  Patio
Activity facilitated by Dana Lam

The belly, the part of the body below the breastbone containing the stomach and the bowels, is the acknowledged storehouse of personal strength and creativity in many cultures. At When Bellies Speak, you will learn to make a plaster cast and turn your belly into an objet d’art representing your inspiration, your hope, your joy, your life’s stories. You will strengthen the connection with your personal powerhouse and have a work of art unique to you. With your permission, your stories may be recorded and edited for inclusion in installation of the casts. This activity will be facilitated by Dana Lam. Dana Lam is a published author and artist. Her work includes She Shapes a Nation (2009) , a short film of women’s voices. She is a former president of AWARE and teaches part-time at LASALLE College of the Arts.  When Bellies Speak is inspired by the joy, the courage, the labour and camaraderie of women. It is supported by The Arts Fund.

Ongoing |  University Lounge

A seemingly harmless advertisement can adversely influence our personal idea of what an ideal body type should be. With present-day media being the highly influential medium that it is, we may feel the need to conform to body stereotypes portrayed by the media. But we don’t have to. Join us at our ‘Breakthrough’ booth. Together, we can break away from the boxes that the media put us in and be the unique individual that we all are.

Seeing The Unseen
Ongoing  |  University Lounge
Photography Installation

Often abuse and violence are associated with overt physical scars and visual signs of exploitation. However there are a other forms of abuse including using derogatory language, strict gender roles, pshycological abuse and narrow notions of beauty that are often not acknowledged by society. The aim of this exhibition is to help people to acknowledge that there are other forms of violence. We need to challenge our acceptance of violence instead of normalising it. This exhibition is presented by Maria Shah and Nisha, students from Because I’m A Girl, UWC Tampines.

Missed Connections Installation
Ongoing  |  University Lounge, Studio Room 2
Interactive Installation

At this interactive installation by Interrobang, visitors will write down their individual commitment to help end gender-based violence, pose with their commitment and have their pictures taken against photographs of settings where gender-based violence occurs. Part of the installation is a scrapbook of findings when the group went around to various places in Singapore to interview members of the public from all walks of life, asking them about forms of gender-based violence they had experienced and the ways in which their gender identities are policed by society. Through this installation, we hope to allow audiences to identify everyday forms of gender-based violence and to empower them to make a change in their community.


PLUS booths by UN WomenRed Pencil and Star Shelter.



This piece was written for the Body/Language creative writing workshop, co-organised by We Can! Singapore and Etiquette SG. IMG_2737

There used to be a postcard on the inside of the door of my university dorm room. In black and white block letters against an eye-catching red background, it read: ‘WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST’, and was pasted above the peephole of my door. A few months ago, a schoolmate who was in my room asked, “Shouldn’t this sign be outside? What’s the point if you put a warning sign and no one except you can see it?”

I didn’t know how to explain it to him. But I said, “I’m afraid I’d scare away the boys!”

He plopped down on my bed and laughed. “I thought I’m the one who’s into boys, not you.” He looked at me knowingly. “Are you even interested in boys?”

Maybe he thought I was only interested in girls but I don’t think he knew how much I used to hate them, especially the long-haired variety. Girls were a foreign species, too emotional, docile, and weak. So I observed the ways boys acted and tried my best to emulate them. ‘Top baby boy names in 2012’, I googled, then decided on a male name for myself – Sherman, which translates to ‘wool-shearer’. I became one of the boys when I cut my hair short in Junior College. Not pixie short, but boy short. It took me quite a while to master the art of styling short hair, but when I did, I thought I looked f**king fabulous. I shunned dresses and skirts, wore shirts and pants instead. I had never really wanted to burn bras, but I once contemplated setting my school skirt on fire in the middle of the school garden upon graduation.

Halfway through my last year of school, I struck off number 24 on my bucket list: wearing boy pants to school instead of the school skirt. That day, my friends said something I knew was a long time coming. They told me I was a lesbian long before I identified as anything other than straight. Others didn’t say it but I could see it in their eyes when they walked past me in school corridors.

78 judgmental looks and 21 unwarranted remarks later, I settled down at a small table outside the school library to summarise ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’ for a literature class. Chapter 6, the church finds out about Jeanette’s and Melanie’s relationship of “unnatural passions”. They are pulled up and accused of falling under satan’s spell.

I looked up from my book. Jacob, an ex-classmate, was walking towards me with a hotdog in his hand. He took a seat at a table directly opposite mine. We were less than 2 metres apart, a little too close for comfort. I tried to ignore him and focus on my book but from the corner of my eyes, I could see that he was looking at me. A bite in his hotdog, he stared straight at me. A few minutes, then another bite, his eyes still fixated on me. I put down my book. It was late in the evening and there didn’t seem to be any other students around. I started throwing my study materials into my bag, all the while keeping my head down. A couple of his classmates joined him at the table with their own snacks and I quickly left the area with my things messily stuffed into a bag that was not properly zipped, feeling his gaze trailing my back, burning a hole through those dreaded pants of mine.

My phone beeped. A text message from a friend who was at his table. “Jacob is asking us what the f**k is wrong with you, says you’re a lesbian who will grow up f**king girls.”

I ran straight to the handicap toilet and locked myself in. For half an hour, I sat on the toilet bowl seat then paced around in the tiny cubicle, too afraid to go out. At some point, I un-zipped my bag, took out a pair of FBT shorts and changed into it. But I felt like a coward for giving in so I changed back into pants. I unlocked the door and was about to open it when I heard voices from outside. School kids laughing and shouting to one another. I locked the door again. I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t walk out of the toilet like that. So I changed into the FBT shorts, waited until the coast was clear before I made a beeline out of school. The stares wore me down, and Jacob was my tipping point.

I fantasised about going up to Jacob on the last day of school in a complete male school uniform (a button-down shirt, pants and a tie) and telling him to his face to take his queerphobia somewhere else because who I am and who I end up sharing my bed with really is none of his f**king business. I mapped out the precise location he would be sitting at in the canteen and the company he would be surrounded by. I even scripted my lines. But of course, that never happened. Instead, I did the most instinctive thing a young, would-be queer could possibly do. I wrote an angry blog post about gender and sexuality on my WordPress website.

For the rest of the year, the ‘click’ of the handicap toilet door as it locked would become a familiar sound. I had few friends, sometimes I had no friends. And gradually, the handicap toilet became my best friend.

I bumped into Jacob recently at my school lobby when he came to visit his girlfriend who studies here. Our eyes met for a second then I quickly averted my gaze, ran back to my room and locked my door, taking deep breaths to calm myself. I looked at the postcard on the inside of my door. “WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST”, it read.

I didn’t want to proclaim to the world that I’m a feminist because I have never felt particularly welcome nor safe in my own university. Once, somebody anonymously posted a letter publicly addressed to me on my university’s Facebook group:

“Dear Sherlyn
Everything seemingly misogynistic, rape-positive, sex-negative, anti-feminist, slut-shaming, anti-woman is NOT ALL THE S**T YOU THINK IT TO BE. PLEASE STOP YOUR PSEUDO-FEMINIST AGENDA. Get a sense of humour. If you don’t, the only ‘change’ you’ll create is your number of friends… closer and closer to zero.”

That was not an isolated incident.

In the wake of all these, I create a performance art piece cum public statement. In the school library, I print out all the anonymous attacks I’ve received on A4 sheets of paper. Each sheet of paper features one anonymous comment. No two sheets contain the same comment. I print out 16 of those. Then I print out another sheet of paper with all the comments and cut them up into smaller strips. I head to the nearest utility shop and purchase blu-tack, scotch tape and small table mirrors. During lunch break, I walk to the middle of the dining hall and arrange the printed sheets in a circle, sticking them to the floor with blu-tack. Behind each sheet of paper, I set up a mirror facing outwards. I stick the small strips of comments onto my back with scotch tape. Finally, I step into the middle of my circle and sit down. Some students ignore me entirely, others come up close to read the words. I invite them to take a stand by sitting with me.

In my head, no one joins me.

In reality, none of that ever happened and it probably never will. Instead, I did the most instinctive thing a young, angry queer feminist could possibly do. I left my university’s Facebook group and wrote a post on an anti-violence against women blog.

There used to be a postcard on the inside of the door of my university dorm room. It’s a sign that reads: “WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST”. At some point this semester, I moved the sign to the outside of my door. When I look through the peephole, I sometimes catch students sneaking a stare at my door decorations when they walk past my room. Could any of them be the ones behind the personal attacks? In a school where ‘feminist’ is a dirtier word than ‘f**k’, where being queer makes you a walking target, what do you choose: hiding behind locked doors, or social suicide? I am tired of playing this game, and if there’s one useful thing that 14 years of schooling has taught me, it’s that you can’t win either way.

About The Author: Sherlyn turned 20 this Halloween. She likes insects and arachnids, and once had a pet snail named Fluffy that was unintentionally murdered by a schoolmate. She’s a second year student at Yale-NUS with plans to specialise in creative writing and work as an editor/writer at some place that won’t cen-sor her subversive “pseudo-feminist agenda”. She’s been quoted to “only ever wear social justice tees or gothic clothing”.


Nursery Rhymes

by Change Maker, Foo Jun Kit

pumpkinPeter, Peter, pumpkin eater,

Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;

He put her in a pumpkin shell

And there he kept her very well

A couple of questions must have crossed your mind after reading that poem. Firstly, what on Earth is the poet trying to say; that women are meant to be domesticated and cannot roam around freely? Secondly, doesn’t this poem sound familiar?

In fact, this is a nursery rhyme, “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater”, which was played on my radio at home countless times when I was younger. It is short and very easy to remember, yet paints such a clearly horrifying picture of a woman being controlled by another man. Young, impressionable children should not be exposed to such nursery rhymes, for they may internalise these problematic ideas as they grow.

I do admire the ability of the poet to depict scenes and I had no trouble with imagination. Yet, I feel that the poet’s ability is so disappointingly misused; of the thousand and one things he could write about, he chose to portray women as weak creatures and puppets of men. What makes it worse is that this poem is meant to be for children.

After digesting this nursery rhyme, I had no difficulty identifying the problem with it, but obviously, young children would. In fact, I recited this nursery rhyme happily when I was young and only realised the implications when revisiting it recently. This clearly demonstrates the impressionability of a child’s mind. To us, the problematic stereotypes portrayed in the nursery rhyme seem obvious, but to the kids, they may be too subtle for them to detect.

Shockingly, it is relatively easy to identify another nursery rhyme with problematic gender stereotypes. The following stanzas are excerpts from a nursery rhyme entitled “Old Mother Hubbard”.

Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard

To get her poor dog a bone;

But when she came there

The cupboard was bare ,

And so the poor dog had none.

She went to the baker’s

To buy him some bread;

But when she came back

The poor dog was dead

She went to the joiner’s

To buy him a coffin;

But when she came back

The poor dog was laughing.

She went to the cobbler’s

To buy him some shoes;

But when she came back

He was reading the news.

The dame made a curtsey,

The dog made a bow;

The dame said, “Your servant,”

The dog said, “Bow-wow.”


The above nursery rhyme portrays men as masters of women with the power to order them around or demean them. The last stanza I cited portrays women as servants of men, and it doesn’t even make the slightest attempt to hide it. In fact, it uses the exact word “servant” to describe the dame. It is outrageous that kids are exposed to these nursery rhymes tainted with such problematic gender stereotypes and discrimination.

What’s worse is that I can still clearly remember the tune of this nursery rhyme. This shows how deep an impression this nursery rhyme has made on me since I was young. I wasn’t aware of the gender stereotypes portrayed in the song until I chanced upon a short critique of it. Even then, I could not believe it until I looked up the lyrics and saw how discriminatory they were.

I must reiterate that while these kinds of nursery rhymes introducing gender stereotypes to children may seem trivial, young children are often unable to decipher the hidden messages littered in nursery rhymes and unfortunately, these hidden messages all play a huge role in shaping their understanding and perceptions.  We must be mindful of what material we are sharing with our children and watch out for dangerous content like these. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a nice nursery rhyme, but there’s a whole lot wrong if a child is exposed to problematic material at such a young age.

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.

That’s more like it.

jun kitAbout the Author: Jun Kit is a Year 4 student at Raffles Institution, although often mistaken to be primary school student due to his massive height.  He is an avid fan of football but enjoys playing badminton too. Maybe one day, he’ll represent Singapore at the World Cup and lead the country to glory.  Besides playing sports, he is also a fan of writing and has his own blog page, albeit filled with football content. But at the moment, he’s focused on his studies and is all pumped up for the upcoming O Level Higher Chinese Examinations. Right.


Breakthrough: We Can! Arts Fest 2014


breakthroughlandscape2-small (1)
On 6 December, join We Can! for live music performances, film, dance, theatre, panel discussions, a station where you can design T-shirts, a photobooth with cool props and more… and it’s all FREE!

Organised by youth, for youth, Breakthrough is an innovative arts fest celebrating diversity and the freedom to be you..

Programme highlights include:

– Electrifying performances by ‘Shh…Diam!’, a queer feminist band bringing their happy hardcore music from Kuala Lumpur.

– ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, an interactive theatre performance exploring how social pressures to be “masculine” contribute to violence against women.

– Body/Language, a spoken word performance examining body image with pieces that had rave reviews at the Singapore Writers Festival.

– ‘“Rescuing” Princesses & Pontianaks’, a workshop on re-writing popular tales in a gender balanced way.

– Contemporary dance performances by student groups innovative exploring body image, gender stereotypes and gender-based violence

Check out the full festival programme here!

Speak up, take a stand and break the box with us. This event is created by youth, for youth!

Date: 6 December 2014 (Saturday)
Venue: SMU Admin Building, Level 6 (University Lounge)
Time: 11am – 8pm

We need your help in making the Arts Fest run smoothly! We are looking for stage managers, AV help, emcees, runners and general volunteers to ensure the festival goes as planned. If you can volunteer for the Arts Fest, drop Nabilah an email at [email protected] you there!

About We Can! Youth

We Can! Youth is the We Can! campaign’s special focus in 2014. This year, we hope to get more youth involved in taking a stand against gender-based violence in their everyday lives. We are reaching out to young Change Makers, learning from their personal experiences and starting conversations on gender stereotypes, sexual consent, rights and healthy dating relationships. Youth Change Makers are young people committed to making positive social change in their communities. Through their actions, they can help make schools, cyberspace and social events safe spaces for young people regardless of their gender or sexual expression.

About We Can! Arts Fest 2013
Missed last year’s We Can! Arts Fest? Last year, we brought together artists, activists and Change Makers to meet others who are using their voices to speak up against the less visible forms of violence. We had art installations, music performances, spoken word, film screenings, theatre and more! Read more about We Can! Arts Fest 2013: The Silence of Violence here and take a look through our photo gallery here!