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.

IMG_9087 IMG_9410







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.

IMG_8974 IMG_8926








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!


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.


What Feminism Means to Me

by Change Maker, Alex Tan

boy-femNot long ago, I had a discussion with my friends about feminism. Their reactions to my internship at AWARE were predictably lukewarm. They informed me that while they were “all for gender equality”, they felt that the feminist movement today runs contrary to the ideal of equality. In their opinion, it actually aims to shift the power imbalance in favour of women by “bashing men up”. It is easy to dismiss these views, but exhausting to fully explain how problematic and ridiculous they are. In this post, I will address three common misconceptions and their flawed assumptions.

Myth: Feminists are reverse sexists.

Granted, men can be victims of prejudice, just as women can. But sexism is systemic oppression. Reverse sexism does not exist because the unequal status of women is institutional and deeply entrenched. For example, in Singapore at present, there are only 18 elected female Members of Parliament out of a total of 84 elected members. Only 7.3% of board positions are held by women. There is a lack of female representation in political, socio-economic and military institutions. This means that even if a woman feels prejudice towards a man, she is powerless to institutionalise this feeling the way men can. Sexism and misogyny therefore do not happen in a vacuum. They take place alongside pervasive culturally-reinforced messages of inherent female inferiority. As such, prejudices against men cannot be considered sexism, given that men already enjoy privileges on a structural level by virtue of having been born male.

Myth: Feminism aims to establish a matriarchy.

28toge-600This is based on the misunderstanding that feminism ignores men’s issues simply because the focus is on women’s rights. Feminism creates a space of female solidarity and gives voice to women in a world already dominated by male narratives. It would be indecent and oppressive for men to demand attention when they already benefit due to existing power structures. Furthermore, feminism is not completely disconnected from men’s issues because it seeks to eliminate gendered expectations and roles which also affect men. In Singapore, National Service is compulsory and male-exclusive for citizens and permanent residents. Evidently, not everyone has military aspirations or capabilities suited to National Service. Forcing it onto men who will not find it fulfilling is unfair, but so is excluding women who will find it meaningful.

However, making National Service compulsory for women as well will not bring any resolution. Instead, a possible solution would be to make it optional for both men and women. Not only does that achieve equality of choice for both sexes, it also discourages the narrow-minded notion that serving in the military is the singular standard by which contribution to the country should be judged. Similarly, rather than expose women to the punitive measure of caning, we should ban the practice entirely. I support AWARE’s stance: “Neither men nor women deserve to suffer from caning. Our stand is not that this practice be extended to include women, but rather that caning be abolished completely”. Violating more human rights as a means to achieve gender equality seems to me both ironic and hypocritical.

Myth: Feminists are un-feminine, unmarried women. 

Other than this being an obviously inaccurate generalization, it is further problematic because it suggests that a woman must be feminine and/or married and implies that femininity and feminist ideals are mutually exclusive. It also perpetuates the damaging idea that a woman’s identity is only valid if she is married to a man. Needless to say, this erases personal agency and objectifies women.

Sometimes I think about the multiple questions associated with being a male feminist, as brilliantly articulated by Arthur Chu here. I dream of a world in which everyone is not socially defined by their gender, but is instead treated with the dignity that human beings deserve.

At the heart of feminism is the freedom of individual expression regardless of whether that image fits society’s restrictive standards.  Feminism disregards and rises above those standards. What comes to mind is a quote by journalist Helen Lewis: “The comments on any article about feminism justify the existence of feminism.” Until the day that feminists will no longer receive backlash for fighting for gender equality and social change, feminism remains urgently necessary.

alexblogpicAbout the Author: Alex likes many things, like Virginia Woolf, Welcome to Night Vale, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Arcade Fire, blogs that criticize what’s problematic in pop culture, articles about the tensions of postcoloniality, any form of media that subverts narrative tropes and long words (e.g. omphaloskepsis) that he probably will only ever use once in a pretentious poem that he has yet to write. Oh, and he is also a feminist. 


News & Updates

SHATTER- We Can! Singapore’s Youth Year Launch

Youth at the event came up with different gender stereotypes they'd like to break. Warning: images in this mirror might be distorted by socially constructed notions of beauty.
The SHATTER Sculpture was the centrepiece of the whole event. A compilation of stereotypes the youth reject, written on pieces of reflective paper, the SHATTER Sculpture is a symbol of youth shattering gender stereotypes that they face in daily life. These stereotypes include those related to body image, domestic roles, women in academia, as well as masculinity and sexuality.

One of the events we were most excited about this year was SHATTER, our launch event for the start of our Youth Year. SHATTER was held at the beginning of June at our partner venue, *SCAPE, and aimed to promote an inclusive youth culture through the celebration of individuality and the right to be free from shame, discrimination, bullying and violence. The event focused on shattering gender stereotypes that youth face in daily life, with various activities and performances to bring this message home.

We had 200 youth coming by our booths and watching the speeches and performances at *Scape.

Throughout the day, about 200 people participated in SHATTER, taking part in our community art booths, watching local musicians use their art to speak up against violence and youth speaking out and sharing stories of their personal experiences with bullying, shaming and violence. The name of the event centred on our SHATTER sculpture, a broken ‘mirror’ that we constructed with shards that we invited people to write on. Each shard carried a stereotype that they wanted to break. Other booths involved T-shirt stencilling and body painting with empowering slogans, a photo booth which invited free gender expression and graffiti walls marked with colourful handprints! We were also enthralled by the stories and music that was shared on the day. There was a great feeling of support and a sense of community which moved us tremendously.

We had 200 youths coming by our booths and watching the speeches and performances at *Scape.

We believe hearing the perspectives of those who came forward to share the challenges they faced as young people (such as cyber bullying, body shaming and dating violence) prompted other youth in the audience to think differently about how they view themselves and others. We hope that SHATTER got you thinking about what you can do to break out of restrictions that society places on all of us, and how you can help others be free to be themselves.

Both UN Women and SlutWalk Singapore had a booth at our event! It’s always nice to have allies.
Learn more about UN Women here:
and SlutWalk here:

Want to check out more photos from the event? Click here to go through our Photo Gallery!


We Can! Campaign Highlights 2013

we can logo (1)2013 marked the beginning of the We Can! End All Violence Against Women campaign in Singapore, and it was a fabulous year full of learning, adventures and change-making.

Our forum theatre, Just A Bad Day – put together and performed by Change Makers, using true stories from their own lives – travelled to audiences across the island, from youth at ITE colleges and *SCAPE, to communities at Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre and Toa Payoh Community Centre. Through these interactive shows, we explored how violence isn’t always black and blue, and how each of us can play a role in putting a stop to the everyday manifestations of violence around us.

We also conducted 25 Change Maker workshops for almost 400 participants from different walks of life. At these workshops, we discuss why we as a society remain tolerant of violence against women and discover ways in which we can start to make change. The Change Maker workshop has proved to be a unique experience that shifts perspectives and encourages introspection. If you’ve come to a workshop and found it meaningful, do refer your friends to one here!

Would You Step In? Volunteer Change Makers staged a scene of a man abusing his girlfriend on Orchard Road to explore how bystanders would choose to intervene. Watch the video below!

We Can! Arts Fest on 8 December 2013 brought artists, activists and survivors together to start a dialogue about the less visible forms of violence in our society. 250 people attended, many of them taking the pledge to be Change Makers.

We look forward to making more memories with you this year, as we take the campaign forward. Thank you for being a part of the journey towards a non-violent and gender-equal society!

If you would like to explore bringing the Change Maker workshop or forum theatre to your community, write to us!


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.



















[one_third last=last]

youth change makers 2






change maker board








change maker board 2























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”.


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]