Understanding Violence III: Guidelines for supporting friends

This is part 3 of the Understanding Violence guidelines series. Take a look at Part 1 and Part 2!

Abusive relationships (e.g. dating abuse, domestic abuse, elderly abuse)

  1. Help your friend make a safety plan. Safety plans are meant to be activated in case of an emergency and can be very different depending on the situation. There are many resources online on how to make a safety plan for different circumstances, but here are some basic elements to consider if your friend is living with their abuser:
    • Identify safe friends and places they could go to in an emergency
    • Help them pack a bag with essential items to take, should they need or decide to leave home. This bag should be kept at work or at a friend’s place.
    • Save emergency phone numbers in their phone (friend’s numbers, a Helpline number, etc) or on a piece of paper they keep in their purse, but in a way that will not arouse suspicion if their abuser goes through their phone/belongings.
    • Ask them what they are already doing to survive, and build on their existing strategies.
  2. If the abuser is a spouse, the victim can apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO) from the courts. The PPO may also come with mandatory counselling for the perpetrator. A violation of the PPO is grounds for arrest. The victim can also seek legal separation on grounds of abuse.
  3. Other options for someone in an abusive relationship include:
    • Individual counselling for the victim and/or perpetrator
    • Arbitration by family or friends
  4. Resources:
    • Family Violence Specialist Centres:
      • PAVE (Promoting Alternatives to Violence) – 6555 0390
      • TRANS Safe Centre – 6449 9088
  • Project StART Care Corner Helpline (for Mandarin speakers) – 1800 222 0000
  • Samaritans of Singapore (Suicidal) -1800 221 4444
  • Family Service Centres (ComCare Helpline) – 1800 222 0000
  • TWC2 (for migrant workers) – 1800 888 1515
  • AWARE Helpline – 1800 774 5935

Sexual assault or harassment

  1. Look up for information and resources on sexual assault.
    • Services include helpline, email support, WhatsApp chat, befriender service, counselling and case management and a drop-in centre.
    • Understand the laws, policies and procedures to make a police report.
    • Sexual Assault Care Centre hotline – 6779 0282
  2. Look up for information specific to workplace sexual harassment.

Understanding Violence Part II: Guidelines for supporting friends

This is part 2 of the Understanding Violence guidelines series. Take a look at Part 1 here

Woman-crying_920x380_scaled_cropp1.  Support them through their choices.

If they want to make a police report or go to the hospital, offering to go with them for support can make a big difference.

  • If they are open to seeing a counsellor, you can offer to call and make an appointment for them.
  • If they agree to make a safety plan, you can make it with them.
  • You can follow up with them on steps they wanted to take, checking in gently to see how they’re doing and if they have made any progress on that/require further support. 

2.  Offer resources. Often, people may not realise what options are available to them. Look up resources for support in such a situation, and share them with your friend. It could be a helpline number, free legal services, counselling services, etc. Educate yourself on the available options and discuss them with your friend. If you are able to, and comfortable with it, you can also offer personal resources. For example, they may need some money or a place to stay temporarily while they figure out their next steps. 

3.  Be sensitive to their position. When a victim of violence is queer, disabled, poor, an ethnic or religious minority, an immigrant, is lacking family support or is facing other societal and structural barriers, they may have even less access to conventional modes of support. Be sensitive to their particular situation, and don’t assume anything about their experience. 

4.  Encourage them to document their experience(s) of violation or abuse, with as many accurate details as possible. Even if they are not intending to make a police report at present, evidence collection and accounts of their experience can help build a case if they change their mind in the future or if the violence escalates and they want to seek legal recourse. 

support-survivors-sign5.  Self care is essential. When our loved ones experience trauma, it often affects us too. While supporting them, we must be responsible in caring for ourselves too and remember to do little things for ourselves that keep our spirits up, and seek help if we need to. 

6.  Encourage them to seek professional help. There are limits to the extent that friends and family can support someone experiencing trauma. Trained professionals can provide support in a multitude of ways, ranging from hotlines and counselling services to legal advice and casework. Encourage them to get the help they need if and when they are ready to. 

7.  Intervening during an incident of violence can be difficult, and even dangerous, but not impossible. Your safety is top priority. Every situation is different, but some ways people have effectively intervened when they witness sexual harassment or abusive behaviour are:

  1. Calling the police
  2. Asking the victim if they are OK or need help
  3. Getting the attention of others around so you have support and can speak in a collective voice
  4. If the perpetrator is known to you, and you feel you have the power to intervene safely (e.g. your friend is getting aggressive or touchy with someone in a club), you can leave with them, take them away from that area/the victim, or persuade them to stop.
  5. Distraction can be useful. In a case of molest on public transport, or catcalling, you can pretend to know the victim and strike up a conversation with them, offer your seat to the victim, or place yourself between them and the perpetrator.

Think about different scenarios you have been in and strategies that might be helpful. Talk to others about their experiences and strategies.

Supportive responses Unsupportive responses
•       It’s not your fault

•       I believe you

•       We’re here for you

•       What do you want to do?

•       What can I do to help?

•       Should we look up options together?

•       We can talk about it whenever you want to

•       This matters. You matter.

•       You don’t deserve to go through this.

•       I’m so sorry that happened.

•       (The perpetrator) is responsible for what happened, not you.

•       Who else do you trust to talk about this to?

•       Do you want me or someone else to talk to (the perpetrator)?

•       Do you want some space?

•       I’m going to support you no matter what.

•       You have nothing to be ashamed of.

•       You didn’t let it happen, (the perpetrator) chose to do it.

•       It’s your own doing

•       You can’t call that abuse/rape

•       You have to leave him!

•       Don’t take it so seriously

•       Are you sure?

•       What were you wearing?

•       Why did you…? / Why didn’t you…?

•       You have to take care of yourself better.

•       Don’t talk to that person anymore.

•       You chose to date a guy like that

•       Think about your kids/others

•       I told you so

•       Don’t exaggerate/Don’t lie

•       Just ignore it

•       Forget about it, it’s no big deal

•       How could you let this happen?

•       Let it go/It’s time to get over it

•       Think about (the perpetrator’s) life

•       Toughen up/Stop crying

•       You can’t let people treat you like that

•       If you weren’t so weak, this wouldn’t happen


Understanding Violence Part I: Guidelines for supporting friends

  1. power_and_controlRecognise and affirm subtler forms of violence. Less visible forms of violence, like emotional neglect, repeated insults or put downs, control, silencing or dominating one’s partner and verbal/visual sexual harassment often go unnoticed, but can cause victims a lot of distress and trauma, especially when it has been going on for a while. Be careful not to trivialise or minimise their experience.
  2. Use their words. If you think what happened to your friend is sexual assault, or relationship abuse, but they aren’t using those terms to describe them, don’t impose this language on them, as it may be overwhelming and they might shut down. Depending on your relationship with them and the circumstances, you can gently introduce the idea, if you think they are open to it. E.g. “What you’re describing sounds like abuse to me.” But initially, use the words they use, and ask questions that may help them unpack their experience. For example, if they say “we keep fighting”, but describe instances where they are fearful and intimidated by their partner, you can ask, “do you think (their partner) feels scared of you during these fights?”
  3. More often than not, perpetrators are known, and even close to victims. Recognise that they may have emotional attachment, financial dependency and/or otherwise complex relationships with their perpetrators. Be sensitive to that. Even though we may see them as violent and abusive, the victim may have more sympathetic feelings for the perpetrator. Referring to a woman’s husband as her “rapist”, for example, can be very difficult for her. Many victims of relationship abuse also go through cycles of violence, where their may partner promise to change after each episode of violence, or blame the victim for the violence – these patterns can have a deep impact on how they see their situation.
  4. Everyone deals with trauma differently, and your friend may have a coping mechanism that is confusing or surprising to you. For example, someone who has experienced sexual assault or an abusive relationship may talk about it very casually, or even laugh while referring to it. This does not mean that they are being untruthful or that they are not traumatised, and the expectation that they must show trauma in certain ways can hinder meaningful communication between you.Exercise: Think of some ways that you respond to or cope with difficult or unpleasant situations. Do you think some of your coping mechanisms may be hard for others to understand?
  5. PeerCounseling-400People are the best experts of their own lives. Don’t take things into your own hands or try any ways to “help” without the victim’s clear and voluntary consent. For example, you may think it is a good idea to confront the perpetrator, but the victim might feel that doing so will put them (and you) in further danger. Or you may believe that if someone is in an abusive relationship, they should leave their partner. But they may not be ready to do so, and leaving might lead to a new set of difficulties and struggles that they are not prepared to face. Always respect the victim’s choice – they know best. Exercise: Think about and list all the possible reasons why someone may not be able or willing to leave an abusive relationship. Putting ourselves in the shoes of others helps build empathy and allows us to respond in more sensitive ways.
  6. Don’t expect to be able to save the day or solve their problem. Also, don’t expect that the victim will be ready to take action right away or in the near future. Sometimes, the victim may not feel ready to take any steps that you’ve suggested. And sometimes, they may not want to discuss options, but just share their feelings. You may get frustrated that nothing is changing and because you don’t feel like you’re helping. You may also feel disappointed if they say they will take a certain step, but don’t follow through. Remember that listening is helping. And because the victim isn’t ready to take any steps now, it doesn’t mean they will never be ready. Leave the door open for future conversations. Helpful things to say:“I understand this is very hard for you. If you change your mind, or feel ready to do any of the things we’ve discussed, I’m right here.”
    “We can talk about it again, whenever you need to.”
    What else can you say in such a situation?

Watch this space for Part II of Understanding Violence!


Should I intervene?

by Sumithri Venketasubramanian, Change Maker

The recent viral video of the abuse of an elderly woman has brought to light something that many of us have probably experienced before: what do I do as a bystander in light of abuse?

When the victims of abuse are those close to us – our friends, family members and neighbours – we might feel compelled to intervene, but might also not know how to. After all, there are so many questions that could affect how we react: ‘It could just be a “family matter”, should I get involved?’ ‘What if by stepping in, I put the victim’s safety at further risk?’ ‘How do I ensure that I won’t get hurt in the process?’

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 4.20.13 pmAnd of course, it’s always important to assess the situation before taking action. Jumping in, or making decisions on behalf of the victim(s), without weighing the pros and cons of our options may end up putting ourselves or others in danger.

Abuse can have many forms, including physical, psychological, sexual, financial and verbal. Some signs are unexplained wounds, isolation, repeated absence from work or school, restlessness, anxiety and an inability to complete tasks. Due to the traumatic nature of abuse, it’s important to remain supportive and patient. Just being there for the victim and assuring them that they’re not at fault can be immensely helpful. Letting them know that you can be trusted and will support them with whatever they choose to do may encourage them to cope with their emotions better.

Ask them what they would like to do, and respect their decision. In many cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim, and it may not be easy to leave their homes in cases of domestic, child or elder abuse, for example. While it may seem ‘right’ to intervene and remove the affected from the abusive environment, doing so without their full consent may cause distrust within your relationship, which may not really aid the situation.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 4.19.52 pmMoreover, financial dependence and emotional attachment may also affect the decision to leave, move out or call the police. To a third-party, an abusive situation may seem evident, but to those involved, the lines may be blurred. Using words like “abuse” may be shocking to the victim, because they may not have viewed it as such. Instead, provide resources that may help, such as helplines, counselling services, nearby police offices, family service centres or help centres. (Some useful helplines can be found here.) Should they choose to report the case or seek help services, offering to go with them can help them feel safer in such an environment.

Should you suspect violence within a neighbour’s/friend’s/relative’s home, calling the police is an option that you can consider. The safety of those involved is of utmost importance. However, note the potential risks associated with doing so and decide accordingly. Generally, even after a report has been made, the perpetrator may not be removed from their home until sufficient evidence proving that they’ve caused harm has been produced. Should it come to the attention of the abuser that the abuse has been reported, the situation might escalate and the victim may be put in further danger. Evaluate the situation carefully. For the most part, though, calling the police is the right thing to do, and not doing anything at all could be worse than ‘interfering’.

Saying stuff like “I told you so” or “why didn’t you leave years ago” doesn’t help anybody; it may even cause them to feel guilty about their experience. Dealing with abuse is very difficult, and the best that we can do is to provide support and encouragement to our friends, family members or neighbours as they recover from what they’ve been though.

About the Author: Sumithri is a passive-aggressive activist who enjoys writing lengthy blog posts on some of the many issues faced in the world. She’s still trying to figure out which of the many social injustices to dedicate her life fighting against, but whatever it is, will contribute the best she can.



Beyond the Facade

by Change Maker, Michelle Shobana

It has never been a norm for my family to talk about issues of gender stereotypes, sexual orientation, body shaming and dating violence. Of course, this does not mean that these issues were not faced; it just meant that no one could ever talk about it in the house.

mich1Having spent my childhood around my elder sisters, I grew up quickly. At a young age, I observed in silence the issues they faced. When my sister was physically assaulted by her partner, I couldn’t understand why she still wanted to stay with him so badly. But I remember holding her hand and telling her she deserved better. The rest of my family preferred a different approach, hitting her as well as threatening to disown her. I know this is never a good way to solve any problem; my sister left him eventually and that was what they wanted.

During my own adolescence, I had to face my own issues. I became aware that my sexual orientation differed from other girls. I felt differently and could never quite find the words to say when they talked about boys, I just nodded and smiled. It was also around this time that I found myself comparing my body with other girls. I was always a chubby child and never though much of it until then. This was when things started to change.

I picked up the habit of vomiting after a meal. It never really made much of a difference to my body, but I always felt better after doing it. This was a habit of mine for three years. In addition to this, I started self-harming and did it every day before school started. Because I did not know how to, I never talked about these issues to anyone.

I knew my sexual orientation would never sit well with my family, because they had expressed such strong negative sentiments towards anyone from the LGBT community. This intensified my other issues, and my eating disorder and self-harming continued.

However, it started to become clear that my issues were affecting me.  I had constant headaches that would last for weeks at a time and had no medication that could alleviate it. My poor physical health affected my grades. My family found out about my bulimic and self-harming behaviour and called me attention-seeking. I was beaten up for my issues and because they saw my behaviour as an act of disobedience. They threatened to disown me if I did not fix myself.

By this time, I knew I couldn’t tell anyone else because being hit by your parents is used as a common “disciplining” tool in Singapore. When I voiced these issues to my family, I got hit even more and was told that I was not an “American”, but an Indian and I should stop thinking of freedom. This comment still affects me today because it shows how narrow their idea of my future is, without any consideration of individual expression or freedom.

mich2Gender stereotypes also play a part throughout my life. Till today, I am forced to put on makeup so that people wouldn’t be put off and will have a good impression of me. The shorter my hair got, the more makeup I had to apply. The more I was forced to apply makeup, the more I refused to do so. So caught up with what people would think and say, my family refused to see the possibility of actual happiness as a diverse family, with each member being able to express themselves freely and help one another achieve their dreams. I hated the idea of living in a box. That was not me.

I only stopped my bulimic behaviour and self-harming when I was enrolled in tertiary education, and I met the woman who put my life back on track. She threw away my blade and applauded when I finished my meals. She told me I look better without make up, and ensured that I always did my best in everything I did. We fell in love, which made me stronger than ever. It was then I realised I had to fight for freedom, no matter how small the scale.

There is little to no talk about gender stereotypes, sexual orientation, body shaming and dating violence within families. Any attempt to discuss these is met with awkward excuses, negative comments or even violence. As Change Makers, we need to break the taboo and make it communicable to individuals from varying backgrounds. Violence is not necessarily physical, it can be emotional abuse too. Victims face all sorts of emotional turmoil when unable to communicate their feelings to their family.

I know because I have been there.

michelleAbout the Author: My name is Michelle, doing my 2nd Year of Information Technology in Republic Polytechnic. I aim to be a teacher, to help individuals in their education academically, and through self-awareness. I see a future where my partner and I can live happily, without being called out for being different. In my spare time, I listen to rock music and take each day at a time. 


On My Unrequited Love for India

By Kokila Annamalai, We Can! Singapore Campaign Coordinator

I just finished the book ’Shame’, which is about forced marriage, honour killings and domestic violence in the South Asian diaspora of Britain. The author is a Sikh woman from Derby who survived very brutal oppression and violence by her family and community, and has spent her life supporting and advocating for other South Asian women and girls in Britain, mostly of Pakistani origin, who’re affected by the same conditions she was in.

What struck me about the book, apart from the horrifying experiences of some women, is the author’s evident pride in her South Asian identity, though she consistently refers to the South Asian community – its culture, norms, traditions and practices – as a site of inequality, discrimination and very violent crimes against women.

Like the author, I too identify deeply with South Asia and South Asian culture, especially India. Though I was born in Singapore and have spent most of my life here, my family is from India and has always taught me that India is home. Since I can remember, we went back to India every year for annual holidays. I’ve spent three of my adult years in Tamil Nadu and had quite a few other stints in different parts of India.

I have always loved India dearly, but because of my own experiences and the overpowering narratives of violence and oppression that is the reality of many South Asian women, it is a very difficult relationship – full of contradictions, shame, confusion and even guilt. But the feeling that has been strongest since reading ‘Shame’ is a very personal kind of pain and anger. It’s the same kind of pain and anger I feel every time I read or hear someone say that India is one of the worst countries in the world for women to live, and say it as though it is the most important thing about Indian society, notwithstanding everything else that is beautiful or remarkable about the place or the people.

I get angry not because they’re wrong, overgeneralising or reductionist in their accusations, but because they’re right. I recently came across an organisation called No Country For Women, which fights against gender-based violence in India, and I was taken aback by the truth in that name. It forced me to confront the fact that the love I have for India, at least for now, is unrequited.

Because the place I love is also a place in which I feel very unsafe; because many of the films in my language are deeply misogynistic and promote rape; because when I was sixteen, I was sent away to India where my relatives pretty much kept me under house arrest for six months because I was suspected to be dating a boy in Singapore; because many of the people I worked with in rural India and adore only respect me because I cover up around them and don’t share many parts of who I am or what I believe in with them.

My own community, both here and in India, accepts dowry, tolerates domestic abuse, forces women into marriage, and some people in my family still rebuke women who dare to call their husbands by their name.

Some of the oppressive practices in South Asia have a stronger hold on diasporic communities like mine, which cling on to them as a source of comfort, security and identity in foreign lands; but for me, growing up with other influences, opportunities and identities in Singapore has allowed me to reject those practices and those who impose them on me.

A part of me has always wanted to live in India and contribute to the feminist movement there. And having met my partner there, I’ve had to consider more seriously the possibility of moving there in the next few years to live with him, but I’m finding that it’s such a difficult decision to make. Because of our families (which are conservative), communities (which are punitive), socioeconomic status (not being able to afford the luxuries of private transport makes things even more restrictive and unsafe for women), jobs and other factors, I’m fearful that we cannot live the lives we choose, and that I will be forced to give up some of the things I believe in.

But here is the reality check – these compromises and restrictions are meagre compared to the situation of many women who can’t choose to stay away, who don’t have allies, who can’t support themselves financially, whose rapes and murders don’t make it to the news – hell, they don’t even make it out of their homes – who don’t have the power to reject the oppressive conditions they are in or be heard.

This is the reality check that makes me want to go and not want to go, at the same time.


About the author: Kokila Annamalai (pictured, left) is the campaign coordinator for We Can! End All Violence Against Women (Singapore chapter), a global movement against gender violence.



Rachel Chung is a We Can! Change Maker, volunteer and spokesperson. Rachel speaks publicly about her experience to show support to victims and challenge the social attitudes that silence them. by Rachel Chung, Change Maker


At first it was verbal: insults, accusations, mockery. After our first child was born, he sniped at me about my weight gain. When I said he was insensitive, he retaliated with a vicious barrage of Hokkien vulgarities.

This continued whenever I “stepped out of line”. I downplayed it at first. But when his verbal admonishments were not keeping me “in rein”, he started shoving me. It got worse – slapping, punching – especially when I earned more than he did. The abuse eventually got so bad that I ended up in the hospital.

Turning to Family

My in-laws were very traditional. They saw the husband as head of the household. My ex mother-in-law advised me to “not answer back”. His siblings also chose to ignore the “embarrassment”. At a family dinner they ignored my bruises,and instead talked about their business and recent holiday to London.

My family encouraged me to divorce him, but they did not offer to let my children and I move in with them. Without that assurance, I felt so insecure, like I was left all alone to fend for my children and myself.

“But Think of the Children!”

Many pressures bind women to violent relationships. Her partner might manipulate her into thinking she is inadequate and worthless; without support from family, friends and society, it is difficult to find the confidence to leave.

Financially, leaving can have serious consequences on the victim and her family, especially if her partner controls her finances or jeopardises her employment. Moreover, the stigma of being a divorcee remains strong in our society.

I faced some of this. Some church members felt I should stay “as long as the kids are not touched”. This made me feel ignored and dehumanised. It wasn’t in the children’s best interests either. What about the trauma it caused them to witness violence at home, or the risk to their safety? The breaking point came one night when my daughter, awakened by the noise of our fighting, came to my defence. He shoved her away. I fought back, and later filed for divorce.

Leaving: New Battles and New Beginnings

The damage to my morale and self-worth from the emotional abuse I had endured was no less harmful than the physical injuries. Violence isn’t always visible. It isn’t always black and blue. We need to recognise and reject all forms of violence around us.

Some women feel ashamed. I’ve been through it. “Was I abused because I wasn’t good enough as a woman or a wife?” Gender biases in families and society perpetuate these beliefs, and we internalise them. We feel like we somehow, “asked for it.”

But it is not our fault. We did not bring this upon ourselves, and I refuse to feel guilty or embarrassed. I want to get this message to abused women out there: it is not your fault and you should not be ashamed in any way.

 More resources on seeking help can be found here.


Thoughts on violence against women in Singapore vs. Norway

by Catharina Borchgrevink, Change Maker

 Violence against women is very much a global problem. Although this particular We Can! campaign focuses on women in Singapore, this issue relates to women all over the world. Some issues are more relevant to Singapore as a society, but at the core we find the same harmful gender stereotypes everywhere, crossing national borders.

I am a Norwegian who recently relocated to Singapore. Norway and the other Scandinavian countries are by no means perfect societies for women. There is definitely room for improvement when it comes to workplace discrimination, sexist attitudes and behaviour, violence against women and gender stereotypes. However, gender parity in these countries is more in place on a global scale.

Many foreigners, including myself, are mostly unaware of the state of women’s rights in Singapore. On the surface, Singapore is clean, safe, and women have equal rights to education and healthcare. A closer look shows the cracks: lack of paternity leave, inequalities in the distribution of leadership positions, no benefits for single mothers and perhaps most shocking of all, the non-criminalisation of marital rape.

The latest statistics show that 1 in 10 women in Singapore will experience physical abuse by a man during their lifetime, and 6 in 10 of these women will suffer repeated abuse. These figures are not unique to Singapore. The UN states that 1 in 3 women worldwide will suffer from abuse. In Norway, it’s 1 in 10 women. Even in the most “gender equal” of societies, women are at risk, especially in their own homes. Most rapes and assaults do not take place in scary alleys and parks, they occur at home, by someone familiar or known to the victim.

One particular issue that needs to be addressed for Singapore is that marital rape is not recognised as a crime. Although rape is punishable up to 20 years, marital rape is an exception of this ruling. It should not matter what relationship the woman has to the perpetrator – after all, rape is still rape, and for many women the fact that the person committing the crime is someone they should be able to trust greatly compounds the severity of the crime. In Norway, the penal code does not make an exception for rape that occurs within a marriage or partnership—it is punishable up to 10 years in prison. However, receiving maximum penalty is rare, and even in Norway cases are often dismissed on the grounds of a lack of evidence. Underreporting is a problem both in Singapore and in Norway, and for many women, it is feelings of shame that stops them from reporting the rape. Where do these feelings come from?

Ingrained feelings of shame after a rape are common worldwide, including in Norway. One big difference however is that these feelings stem from the victim’s own emotions, and not the family of the victim. Cultural norms of keeping up appearances for the family, and family reputation, are much more common in Singapore and Asia than in Scandinavia. Upon reporting or coming out as a victim of sexual assault, the reaction from the victim’s family should be supportive and helpful, not insinuating shame or covering up the crime, which sadly often happens when families are concerned with keeping one’s reputation.

Personally, this culture of familial shame and victim-blaming is unfamiliar, and unexpected of Singapore as a society which, on the surface, appears to be progressive in terms of gender parity. While I can relate to family reputation being important, being willing to hide a crime is quite uncommon in Norway.

Having said that, even in Norway, the tendency to blame the victim still exists. People raise questions on what the woman was wearing or if she was drunk, showing that even across cultures, violence against women is indeed a global problem.

The root causes of violence against women have to be viewed from a global perspective, as it is not contained to a Singaporean or Asian context. Cultural norms of shame and victim blaming are more complicated issues to tackle, but we should not be afraid of stepping up and speaking out against these challenges. You, too, can make a difference in your own community—start a discussion of how Singapore can become a safer place for women today!


This is your life. Get tested.

The way that we talk to those around us about HIV, marriage and sex can put women’s health at risk.

This insight lies behind ‘This is your life. Get tested.’, a new video released today by the We Can! campaign to mark World Health Day. The video depicts a woman sitting at a doctor’s office, trying to decide whether to take an HIV test, as she believes her husband has been having sex with other women. As she waits for the doctor, memories of encounters with various figures in her life flash in front of her. These include her husband coercing her to have sex without protection despite her wishes, and her family and friends expressing scepticism and disbelief at her situation, or blaming her for it.

“This video illustrates how societal support for women’s sexual empowerment within marriage can be crucial to women’s health and well-being”, said Kokila Annamalai, the We Can! Campaign Coordinator. “Research on women who report contracting HIV from their husbands shows that sexual disempowerment plays a key role in their experience. As a society we must affirm women’s right to say no to sex, or to insist on a condom within marriage. We also want to encourage all women who think they may be at risk of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) to get tested”.

The video has been crafted based on a five-year qualitative study commissioned by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). The study was led by a team from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, and supported by the Department of STI Control, National Skin Centre and the Communicable Disease Centre.

Through in-depth interviews with 60 women, the study shows that among respondents who were married and diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, more than half reported that their husbands had infected them. Many of them knew that their husbands were having sexual relations outside of the marriage, but felt disempowered to protect themselves from STIs by refusing sex or ensuring the use of condoms. This may be attributed to unequal power relations between husband and wife, as well as traditional gender norms expecting women to be sexually submissive to their husbands. This is reflected in some of the women’s reports that their husbands became violent when asked to use a condom. As a result, some women have been forcibly infected by HIV/AIDS through marital rape. Yet the Penal Code (Section 375(4)) continues to put women’s health at risk by giving immunity to husbands who rape their wives.

The study also found that HIV-infected women’s difficulties were compounded by stigmatisation by unsympathetic family, friends, workplaces and community. This deters some women who are at risk from getting tested and seeking support. The video aims to raise awareness of the importance of women prioritising their own health and lives, even if friends and family are less than supportive.


Violence against women: Not just a women’s issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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